If ethanol makes only borderline sense

energetically, that’s okay.  It seems to have geopolitical ramifications far outside the Middle East.

That’s fine with me.  If putting money in farmers’ pockets helps to weaken the world’s “petrofascists,” really, I can only see upside.

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  1. We may have no choice. Did you see where the SCOTUS just ruled that the EPA now has control of our vehicle emissions?

    Get ready.

    The Global Warming Clowns are gaining ground.

  2. But why do a halfass move that requires infrastructure changes and mechanical modifications to get minimal environmental gain just to “thumb our noses” at others. A move to biodiesel would require no changes mechanically to existing diesel engines, would require less infrastructure change (you would need to add more pumps as more diesels hit the road since many stations don’t offer it now) and would still support farmers, but those farmers would be a more diversified lot that aren’t locked into a monoculture system.The nice thing about that approach is that you begin to effect the huge fleet of long haul trucks right away, the worst individual polluters on the road.

    It should be noted that the Pres Devon Energy has said how happy he is with E85 adoption. The process to make the ethanol uses huge amounts of natural gas and sales have never been better for them. Granted we do have very good natural gas production in the US so this does still fit into your perspective of domesticating energy production but doesn’t really do much to remove the petroleum tit from our mouth.

  3. Well, I am waiting now for the EPA to declare my truck illegal, I guess, because it is a gas burner and not a diesel. I knew farmers when I was a kid that never burned anything but butane in their trucks and tractors. I also have great uncle that was everything but killed by a butane tank explosion. There are advantages, but some true risks with that solution.

    There is one point of irony in the ethanol solution that I still find very funny. The proposal that Bush brought to Brazil for more ethanol production sounds pretty great. The downside, from the point of view of the ‘eco-nuts,’ is that Brazil makes ethanol from sugar-cane. The way that they make sugar-cane plantations there is to cut down the rain forests by slash-and-burn. The other great no-no for the ecology folks. If we want more ethanol, maybe we have to have the rain forests slaughtered?

  4. But what if the rain forests are cute?

  5. Gotta ignore him HC… he really likes the word slaughter and thinks it means things it really doesn’t. I’ve tried to explain it but, well, you can imagine.

    And yeah there were a lot of propane rigs in OK in farm trucks. It’s not a tough mod to make but I never liked the idea of loosing a third of my truck bed (or all of my truck if in a car) to fit the mod. The fact that it’s highly explosive to boot just makes it interesting.

  6. Mike

     /  April 3, 2007

    Yeah, that is the truth. I don’t think there is a one “perfect” solution, just a mix of not so perfect solutions that can add up.

    As for #3, when have most American/European Environmentalists ever really thought about this stuff in a realistic way? These are the same folks who called my sister an ignorant hick (I quote exactly) when she told them she had seen lots of buffalo while growing up (I am from Nebraska and we have a herd or five walking around). What she had seen were “Bison”, Buffalo don’t exist and if she couldn’t understand that then she was to stupid to participate in the conversation.

    The idea of actually having to pick a “lesser” evil for these people just doesn’t compute sometimes. I agree that a bio-diesel system is a great idea, so why don’t more of them get behind it?

  7. I’m no big conspiracy theory guy but, it does make me wonder if the issue might have to do with the accessibility of biodiesel. Since I raise animals I have considered getting my own screw press, extracting my own oil and feeding the resulting cakes to my small herd. I can then convert to SVO systems or put together a small system to brew my own biodiesel. This is a level of energy dependence that I’m not sure the powers that be are all too comfortable with. That said, the other side of the argument is that while it may be doable, it is far from something the average consumer would do.

    Personally I think E85 has to do with the influence of corn lobby which has for decades pulled billions of dollars out of the government and continues to do the same. Probably a combination of the corn, petroleum and auto lobbies as corn is certainly a good source for oil for biodiesel as well. … regardless this push seems to be more about the status quo than it is about making a lasting impact.

  8. Mike

     /  April 3, 2007

    Well, money-wise you might have a point. But farming is a strategic industry and one that needs to be protected. I would argue that some other industries fit this and haven’t been taken care of (steel and shipbuilding pop to mind), but food is one of those that you should always protect. I can’t say I know a whole lot about the “Corn Lobby”, I grew up on a corn farm and we sure never heard about it. Sometimes there are severe (for lack of a better term) adjustments that need to get made in how farms work (farmers tend to be very conservative and that doesn’t work to well economically sometimes), and Ethanol seems to be doing a lot right now. If the Bio-diesel helps out as well I am all for it. If it more geared towards helping the Big Agra Businesses (which I think is what you mean by the Corn Lobby, let me know if I am wrong), I am not so hot for it, but sometimes you need a heavy to get adjustments made.

  9. Mike

     /  April 3, 2007

    Speaking of which, you were talking about farm animals. You are a farmer or rancher? Where at and what do you grow?

  10. Farmer is a bit too professional a label to put on me, peasant farmer perhaps as my family mainly grows/raises for our own consumption and sells any excess. We have the required garden of course as well as bees, meat rabbits, (a few fiber as well) muscovy ducks(meat), turkeys(meat), chickens(meat and eggs), and two breeds of sheep (jacob and karakul)(meat, wool and stock sales). Most of these would be more than happy to do away with any meal cakes made from producing my own oil, but at several thousand dollars I’ve not yet been able to get a screw expeller.

    As for the “corn lobby” there are actually several organizations, both the National Corn Growers Association, and the American Corn Growers Association are heavy into pushing ethanol and lobby hard to that end without regard to it making sense, only that it pushes their agenda. I don’t have any issue with the farmers themselves, much like I don’t issue with autoworkers but I have little good to say about the unions. I do have relatives that are in fact corn farmers (and a couple dairy farmers… those folks are just plain crazy) and they are all very good people.

    The advantage to biodiesel is the much broader range of crops that can be used as raw material. This allows all farmers to profit as well as allow for crops to be planted according to local conditions. It also requires less refining than does ethanol (and certainly e85) so it has less embodied energy in the product itself. Ultimately it is more substainable.

    In the end however they are both small steps along the way. We could in no way grow enough crops to feed our energy needs regardless of which technology we use. Which is why all steps need to be taken with an eye towards electric. But we have a way to go on that one.

  11. Mike

     /  April 3, 2007

    Agreed on the movement towards electric. But every little bit helps.

    I wouldn’t use the word “peasant farmer”. No American farmers are peasants, never have been and I hope never will be. Subsistance maybe. Amatur would also fit. A peasant is a unarmed dirtgrubber who has to bow and scrap for a noble.

    Sorry, don’t mean to get preachy but that word is one that can get my fight up real fast.

    I see your point on the “Corn Unions” but I haven’t ever had much issue with them. It might be because of the fact they are our guys (as in the Farmers guys), or that they are really below our radar in Ag states (corn is corn is corn so to say). Sometimes in order to be effective you need to organize. And given enough time, organizations will remove themselves from their roots. I just haven’t seen that happen much where I am from (yet).

  12. “I wouldn’t use the word “peasant farmer””

    Oh I don’t know…

    peas·ant (pĕz’ənt) pronunciation

    1. A member of the class constituted by small farmers and tenants, sharecroppers, and laborers on the land where they form the main labor force in agriculture.
    2. A country person; a rustic.
    3. An uncouth, crude, or ill-bred person; a boor.

    I might avoid a 100% fit on those first two definitions but there is no dodging the last one. 🙂

  13. happycrow

     /  April 3, 2007

    Yeah, but you fit in just fine around my place… 😉

  14. Mike

     /  April 3, 2007

    Well, using the Nebaska definition of peasant usually involves “unarmed prole who can be whipped into submission”. I don’t know anyone in my hometown who fits the first category and pretty damn few on the second.

    But you quoted the dictonary, so what can I do. Even though a peasant probably wouldn’t be smart enough to do that.

    So I don’t think you qualify. Consider it a compliment. If you would rather go by the dictionary description, ok, I am easy.

    You do own a gun right?

  15. pistol, long gun or scatter?

    Doesn’t really matter, the answer is still yes.

    Makes me no nevermind… labels are generally for others to call us and they’ll call me what er they wish. How do you label a IT guy who raises his own meat and veg, plays with alt fuels, the arts, muscle cars and vernacular architecture other than deeply disturbed that is…

  16. Well, Sal, I have to admit that I would have said ‘somewhat disturbed,’ rather than deeply disturbed, but close enough for me.

  17. Mike

     /  April 3, 2007

    Hrmmmmm, that is a tough one.

    How about “eccentric”?

    “Self-employed on the side”?


    “Forward thinking”?

    Hmmm, when put that way I don’t think there techincally IS a lable for you. Congradulations, you are carved and not someone who they broke the mild after (there never was a mold for you).

    I am stumped, so since you don’t mind peasant you be.

  18. Mike, if you have not yet, come over to http://www.sciolistsalmagundi.com and you can get a better picture of just how twisted he can be. Now myself, I think I am the sane one posting there (under the name of Phelonius). If you HAVE been there and just been too nice to say anything, that is ok as well……

  19. Mike

     /  April 3, 2007


  20. Hey Sal,

    That’s pretty much me also. I’m a software security architect, raise goats, chickens, and occassionally a cow or two. Though I don’t do much on the car front other than repairs heh. I enjoy compiler design though.

    I know a couple of other guys that do the same out this way.

    I tried to avoid it – but my family has upteen generations of ranching, and it seemed the right thing to do for some odd reason.

  21. I would love to, but living in the city has made those kinds of decisions a moot point.

    Most of my relatives are dirt farmers and ranchers, or their immediate family are. Once I get out of this anthill of humanity I hope to be able to have the leeway of raising a few animals.

    If I eat what I raise here in Irving, I am going to have to convert to a Korean style diet, and that just has little appeal.

    Sal gives me a lot of crap because I do not raise animals here that I can ‘slaughter’ ( and yes, I DO understand the meaning of the word ). Hell, he went to the same HS I did and we could not do that there either. I do admire the folks that can become more independent of the ‘frozen-foods section’ or the ‘over-expensive meat department.’ I shudder to think what can happen when the super-markets here have a shortage. In my mind, that scenario looks a whole lot like ‘Mad Max.’

  22. Mike

     /  April 4, 2007

    A good reason to have some MREs on hand. I say you haven’t lived until you have gutted a deer you have shot yourself. You get a feeling of closure on that whole circle of life thing (and the very great feeling of being the top of the food chain).

  23. That scenario looks a whole lot like “we’re already gone.”

    There are advantages to being heavily-armed news and information junkies.

  24. Having farm animals illegally in the suburbs: reminds me when my father did it, when I was in my early teens. We had a revolving miniscule number of non-pets before the backyard got turned into the uber-garden. Three chickens (they all flew off, and then stray dogs got ’em), two ducks (one died after getting into the Andro Ant-killer), one small pig (for a pig roast and Filipino Pork Blood Soup), and one very irate goat (for various Filipino goat dishes).

    I can still remember the burned goat-hair smell as my father used a hand-held acetylene torch to get off some of the hair on the slaughtered goat.

    Before moving to Texas, our Navy housing was only a mile from the Navy-only stretch of beach called Gab-Gab in Guam. So, under cover of evening, he’d head into the ocean with snorkel, goggles, wet-suit, net-covered inner-tube, and spear gun, and go fishin’.

    At any time of the late night and early morning, I’d find various saltwater fishes, crabs, and octupi angrily flopping, clacking, or writhing in the kitchen sink. The whole three years at Guam, we never used the commisary for seafood.

    Talk about being on top of the food chain! 🙂

    And, oh yeah — my dad would bring home surplus MREs as well. Heh.

  25. Odd thing for me is I really didn’t grow up in it. Oh I never had a backyard growing up as it was always tilled with garden and fruit trees but I was never around animals growing up (outside of pets and the occasional visit to my uncles dairy farm) I always lived in town. My family didn’t really even hunt. So when I decided to get into this I had no practical experience at all.

    Interestingly the dot com bust is what drove me to it. I was making (as most of the IT folks were) a more than fair salary and life was good. Then one day it was all gone. I looked around at all these bills, all these responsibilities and saw that I was working for everything I owned, none of it was working for me. My own home became nothing more than an anchor around my neck, another thing I had to pay for. Outside of keeping me out of the elements it did nothing for me. That’s when I decided I was done with that and I began seeing what I could do to change that dynamic.

    I realized the biggest impact I could make financially was through meat production. Fresh veggies are nice to have but pound for pound and dollar for dollar they don’t add up to the value of meat.(it doesn’t hurt being a bit of a foodie) I also got heavily into permaculture practices, not the new white washed permaculture drivel that seems to be out, but the fully integrated ideas in which animals are a key element to the equation. Most of the new writings have pulled the animals out of the equation in the effort to appease the greenie vegan element. Anywho, I digress….

    So, I learned how …. from birth to slaughter and everything in between. While it was an unfamiliar and uncomfortable process we have gained so much through it. We now know completely where our meats come from. We have no worries about what they were fed, how they were treated or what they might have been exposed to. The quality of the meat is superior to anything we get in the store without question. The diversity of our diet is much better. (how many people eat rabbit, duck, chicken and lamb in the same week?… I start freshwater shrimp raising in another month as well) And most importantly, my kids are all very aware of where there food comes from. What is behind a meal and that meat’s natural habitat is not stryofoam.

    Speaking of kids, there is one other side benefit. Sex education couldn’t be easier when you’ve got animals. Its the most natural conversation in the world to talk about the animals and then one day it dawns on them… that people do that thing to. Makes for an easy “talk”.

    Oh, and I do think backyard meat production is relatively easy. Rabbits are silent and not smelly (if you don’t allow their manure to pile up) They deliver an average of 7 babies with a dressed weight of 2lbs at 9 weeks. With a gestation period of 6 weeks, breed back in 12 which gets you about 4.3 litters a year or 30 kits per doe per year. You could easily run 3 does in a backyard operation with an estimated return of 180lbs of meat. The rabbit waste is the best fertilizer you can get and is not ‘hot’ which means it will not burn plant roots. You can apply it directly to plants without composting. OOOOooor you could then create worm bins that you could raise red worms or night crawlers for bait or other animal feed and with that you could…… I better stop now.

  26. Mike

     /  April 5, 2007

    Good stuff. I go more for the bigger animals, but they get labor intensive. I think this one of the reasons I like studying the Civil War so much. I have a lot in common with so many of the people there (railroads, farming, military, simple life, etc) that it is easy to understand their mindsets (well, easier).

    I would have traded the Nebraska WInters for the Guam spear-fishing though in a heartbeat. WE did spear fish, but that was on foot in a slew for big catfish.

    Or you use a .22 (So I hear anyway. Shooting fish is illegal and I would NEVER do that (if anyone was watching)).

  27. The nice thing about smaller animals (particularly rabbits) is one, their feed conversion is much higher and water uses lower. Two, the smaller land requirements and three, the more immediate genetics impact. I enjoy working on improving my stock and manage the breeding of all my animals to do so. The largest animal I have right now are the sheep (karakul) and with at most 3 lambings every 2 years it takes some time to see the impact of those activities. I can see the impact in my rabbits very quickly.

    That and the fact that there are few things I love more than grilled rabbit.

    Oh, and they’re a hell of a lot easier to clean. Having said that if I had more pasture I’d run either beef or some pastured pork as well.

  28. Mike

     /  April 6, 2007

    Damn, suddenly I am hungry…


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