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Elite Engineer

Energy Accounting: Fossil Fuel vs. Biofuel

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Is the cost of producing biofuel (or really any alternative fuel in this argument) really that much greater than fracking/digging up fossil fuel? Correct me if I'm wrong but the big sink in  in alternative fuels is the production of the fuel. You don't get more energy out of it then it costs to make it. So you're breaking even or making a little profit.Whereas with fossil fuels, the "assembly" of crude oil molecules has already been done for us by the plant and animal decomposition under heat & pressure for millions of years. All we have to do is frack/dig it up. Looking at the size and operation of oil rigs and fracking companies, you'd think it would cost much more to obtain the crude oil.

Your thoughts on this?

~EE

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2 hours ago, Elite Engineer said:

Is the cost of producing biofuel (or really any alternative fuel in this argument) really that much greater than fracking/digging up fossil fuel?

Do you include the externalised costs - climate and health - as part of the cost calculation? I don't think any estimates of the costs for various energy sources will be valid if those externalities are excluded; if, as some efforts to quantify those costs show, the costs are likely to be quite high (above US$40 per metric ton of CO2 emitted) then there are sound economic reasons for turning to alternatives. Do we consider the opportunity cost as well? If productive agricultural land is diverted to biofuel production the production of other things gets curtailed. None of this looks simple to quantify or the results anything but estimates with wide error margins.

If we choose to leave aside climate and respiratory health costs and look purely at the highly misleading immediate monetary values and act like those other costs don't exist, then it sounds like ethanol from corn is still a lot more expensive than fuel from crude oil. Sugarcane based ethanol costs look better but are still high. Yet the difference is not so great that a price hike for oil could not change the balance in favour of ethanol - Brazil produces ethanol for around 80c per US Gallon, which in many parts of the world (but not the US) would be considered cheap.

If we choose to look at Energy Return on Energy Invested (EROI or EROEI) then oil looks like this (with rising costs as easy reserves get depleted and more difficult ones get exploited) -

1-s2.0-S0301421513003856-gr1.jpg

The losses are covered by using more crude oil and fuels made from it than hits the open market, times five - producing fossil fuels is a big source of global emissions.

Add in climate change and we could choose to look at total energy, including the climate system's heat gain - in which case each MJ of energy from all sources (ultimately as waste heat) is eclipsed a hundredfold. If we faced an imminent ice age that might be useful heat - except the quantities of CO2 (arguably, it is more than any other substance we make) already exceed what would be needed to do that.

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6 hours ago, Ken Fabian said:

 If we choose to look at Energy Return on Energy Invested (EROI or EROEI) then oil looks like this (with rising costs as easy reserves get depleted and more difficult ones get exploited) -

I think that's it in a nutshell. When prices drop, the expensive reserves are not tapped and the expensive operations are shut down.

 

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