Jason Barton

Professional Information and Energy News

Archive for the ‘Energy Independence’ tag

Citizen Cane: Is biofuels’ future in the fields of Brazil, or the fields of home?

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It’s odd that we didn’t think much of these cane workers for the centuries when we were importing Brazilian sugar, when conditions were undoubtedly much, much worse than they are today. This has been a more common topic in the news of the last few years.

Mr. Lane proposes a series of cogent arguments why the U.S. should be more self-reliant in terms of our energy use, and some rather dubious ones on why we should not rely on Brazil and why we do not yet have a cellulosic biofuels industry here in the U.S.

Maybe it’s simply because of the age of information: now we have immediate access to the stories of people in rural areas on the other end of the globe, and the internet provides the space to tell those stories. Maybe it’s because, unlike the diminutive domestic sugar market, the burgeoning biofuels market and the already powerful corn lobby provide much stronger motivations to investigate the downsides of corn ethanol’s far more efficient competitor.

Having just returned from three months working with the cane industry in Sao Paulo, which produces 60% of their cane and ethanol, I can say that cane cutting is brutally difficult work, but work done by choice in a place where hundreds of thousands of people have no access to anything safer, smoother, or that pays better. They are not slaves; they are poor, without access to education, and without other options.

Perhaps an even more pressing set of questions is what will happen to these workers, and the Brazilian bioenergy market as a whole, as the sector becomes increasingly more mechanized and much more efficient over the next five years. These hundreds of thousands of workers will almost all lose their jobs, with one tractor replacing 80 workers. But it will also create another 15-25 jobs that pay better, require more training, and are much safer.

The increasing access to education for workers, information for cane producers and ethanol refineries, and the capital flowing into the sector from Brazil and abroad will help to streamline cane and ethanol production, shed light on best, and worst, practices, improving the industry and increasing yields per unit of land.

Many producers making the move to mechanization have not yet adopted the changed planting patterns or harvest practices that will increase their yields dramatically. The Sugarcane Technology Center (CTC) a private research firm in Sao Paulo whose associates produce the majority of Brazilian cane, is constantly at work investigating best practices and disseminating them across larger and smaller producers around the country’s center-south region.

This brings us back to why so many people advocate increased importation of Brazilian ethanol, and why we don’t have a cellulosic biofuels industry here in the U.S.:  Brazilian ethanol is much, much more efficient. In the Global Market that Mr. Lane describes, unlike the Global Village, price is king. Unlike U.S. corn, which is the recipient of enormous subsidies and is protected by a $0.54 per gallon tariff, Brazilian cane and ethanol compete on the free market, with drivers of flex fuel vehicles making a choice at the pump based on which is cheaper, ethanol or gasoline.

Our lack of a cellulosic industry is not because of “fear of the unknown,” but simply because of feasibility. Cellulosic ethanol cannot come close to competing with cane ethanol, nor with petroleum, so it does not have a presence in the market.

Yes, we should foster research and development in domestic energy, and biomass-based biofuels will likely play a part in our energy independence, along with nuclear and domestic petroleum and, most important of all, energy efficiency. We need to use less energy if we want any hope of achieving energy independence.

So while I agree with Mr. Lane’s premises, the difference is in the details. Let’s strive to nurture our own domestic energy markets, but let’s be honest about how and why we do it.

by Jim Lane

“Let me tell a story ‘bout a man named Jed /
a poor mountaineer barely kept his fam’ly fed…”

By now, if you are a devotee of vintage TV or over the age of 40, you may well be humming along to the theme song of The Beverly Hillbillies. The song told the story of how these comic hillfolk ended up owning a mansion in a swank part of Los Angeles, because of an oil strike on their land back home. It’s the dream of many of poor landowner for a long time now.

[...]

Cheap fuel! Cheap energy!

That’s what we want — or have wanted for a long, long time. Cheap fuel, and cheap food, and no questions asked.

So much of our cheap sugar comes from the cane fields of Brazil — for the Brazilians drove down the price with an efficiency that virtually extinguished the US sugarcane business. We don’t see the cane worker any more clearly than the Nigerian farmer.

We may tut-tut over reports of slavery in the industry when we see it flash across the Bloomberg Channel, or regret the conditions that every cane worker must experience, wielding a machete at high speed for hours, and days and years. The long years in the hot fields, the high prices in the company stores, the rude shacks used by the cane-workers — we might become agitated if we saw it, but we don’t see it, or rather we avert our minds rather than our eyes. It is the same with chicken farms or cattle feedlots — a 60 Minutes report might arouse our outrage for a day or two, and then we lapse into the old habit of taking the cheap price, and pushing inconvenient thoughts aside.

Read the entire article here.

Is It Worth the Investment for Energy Independence?

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Is it worth the investment to have energy independence and more renewable energy?

Optimism for a clean energy future

By MAGGIE L. FOX | 4/20/10 10:47 AM EDT

Read the entire article here.

But the good news is that, behind all the daily political turmoil, the Senate is working on an agreement to forge a new energy future that will help our economy, promote energy independence and give us millions of new jobs.

Fowler diving headfirst into renewable energy

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Here’s an update on a very early post on this site. The town of Fowler, Colorado, has a diverse and integrated strategy to gain energy independence while saving money. Great stuff.

Posted: 04/18/2010 01:00:00 AM MDT

Updated: 04/18/2010 08:56:58 AM MDT

Wayne Snider, a former Grumman Areopspace executive, is now the Fowler town administrator. He’s standing in front of what used to be the Park Elementary school, built in 1905, which will soon house the city administration offices, the library and the police department and will be run by solar power and use geothermal exchange for heating and cooling. (Joe Amon | The Denver Post)

One source of renewable energy Fowler is planning is an anaerobic digester that will make methane from manure at the Rocky Ford feed yard. (Joe Amon | The Denver Post )

FOWLER — Like many a town on the Eastern Plains, this farming community has seen better days, but now it has a new plan. It is going to disappear — from the electric grid.

If all the town’s plans — and there are many — come to pass, Fowler will generate its own electricity, biofuel and manure-based gas; and an empty canning plant will turn into a new solar-panel factory.

At a time when a raft of public officials, including President Barack Obama and Gov. Bill Ritter, are calling green and renewable energy a key to rejuvenating the American economy, tiny Fowler is making itself a full-scale test case.

Read the entire article here.

How communities can take control of their energy futures

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by John Farrell

March 5, 2010

Energy self-reliant states have stronger economies. And new data on wind power potential reveals that five Midwestern states could match their current electricity use with domestic wind power.

But along with the good news, these states — Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Michigan — should take note of the stakes.

Read the entire article here.

Written by Jason

March 5th, 2010 at 12:10 am

Chu: Energy Initiatives Could Bring Jobs to Colo.

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Sweet.Thanks, Dr. Chu, for forcing me to choose between my desire to work in the energy industry here in Colorado, and my fiscally conservative values. I’ll stay true to my values and maintain the confidence that I can get a job without massive government spending. And if I don’t get a job I can always eat those words…

US energy secretary: Renewables key to job creation but more investment needed

By SAMANTHA ABERNETHY Associated Press Writer
AURORA, Colo. February 19, 2010 (AP)
The Associated Press

Promoting Colorado’s renewable energy industry is key to generating jobs and easing dependence on foreign oil — but the U.S. is lagging behind China in its investment in renewables, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said Friday.

“America has the opportunity to lead the world in a new industrial revolution,” Chu said at an energy jobs summit in Aurora. But he warned that China’s investment of $9 billion per month to diversify energy sources away from coal far exceeds America’s spending.

Read the entire article here.

Petrobras imports gasoline on demand surge

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Darn! Brazil was doing so well with their energy independence. Even with slumping ethanol supplies, demand side management looks like it could have solved this problem without the imports.

SAO PAULO, Feb 17 (Reuters) – Brazil’s state-controlled oil company Petrobras (PETR4.SA)(PBR.N) said on Wednesday it is importing gasoline to ensure supplies to the domestic market after a spike in demand for the motor fuel.

Demand for gasoline in Brazil has jumped on falling production of sugar cane ethanol, which in Brazil is often used as an alternative fuel for cars, as heavy rains cut into the sugar crop.

Read the entire article here.

Written by Jason

February 18th, 2010 at 7:47 am

Not expanding drilling may cost U.S. $2.4 trillion

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February 16, 2010

A gull flies at a coastal area in Bayou La Batre, Alabama November 10, 2009. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

A gull flies at a coastal area in Bayou La Batre, Alabama November 10, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Carlos Barria

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. economy will lose $2.4 trillion over the next two decades if the federal government does not allow oil and natural gas drilling in restricted onshore lands and in offshore areas previously closed to energy companies, according to a new study released on Monday.

U.S. |  Green Business

The report, prepared for the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, also said U.S. imports of crude oil, petroleum products and natural gas would increase by $1.6 trillion over the period without access to the energy resources.

[...]

The study also raised the estimated U.S. oil and gas resources that are available in all areas based on advance drilling technology and easier development of energy supplies trapped in shale rock.

As a result, U.S. resources of crude oil were increased by 43 billion barrels to 229 billion and natural gas was raised by 286 trillion cubic feet to 2,034 trillion cubic feet.

Read the entire article here.

Written by Jason

February 16th, 2010 at 7:12 am