Biomass Fuel, Energy, Power Counterpoint

Biomass is a term being more frequently used for renewable fuel, energy and power made from any organic material from plants or animals. Sources are organic crops, plants, and trees, agricultural food and feed crops, and residues from plants, crops, wood, and animals-in other words what is left over or scraps. The usable by-products are gas additives (ethanol and biodiesel), methane gas (burned as fuel), and organic fibers and wood (for heat and generating electricity).

I became more interested in biomass after previously covering the following topics:

Solar Power/ Energy

Wind Turbine Power

Natural Gas Car Fuel

U.S. Oil Reserves

Price of Oil

Corn Food Fuel

Car Fuel Efficiency

Global Warming and Energy Reserves

Electrical Utilities are facing new rules requiring them to generate 20% of their power from renewable resources by 2020. Solar and wind power has been considered by most utilities and many don’t have the resources, or have run into legislative roadblocks. With all Utilities being required to meet quotas, they are now considering, and building, “Biomass” Power Plants, since they can get significant federal tax credits.

Most studies are based on data such as that from “The Engineering Toolbox”.  The data shows that the biomass energy is free, since the process is considered nearly carbon neutral, because the plants only emit the carbon they absorbed while they were growing. The time and volume of usage is neglected-it is not explained that more is used than grown, and in between there are fewer trees to absorb the carbon dioxide. The real world is more like Fig. 3 Plot “Pounds of CO2 per KWH” of the article “How to measure fuel efficiency, energy costs, and carbon emissions for home heating”.  Both coal and wood have the same high-level carbon footprint.

An interesting article, “Biomass Energy Facts”, is a good comprehensive worthwhile list. It is not mentioned that renewable energy in 2007 was 7% of the US energy supply, and of this 3% is biomass. In 2020 20% of US energy is to be by renewable, with a good part of the increase by biomass, meaning a much-increased usage of wood from trees that takes time to replace and is now a big source of CO2 absorption.

Of major concern is that states (Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Missouri, etc.) are now proceeding with biomass energy projects based on the process being considered nearly carbon neutral because the plants only emit the carbon they absorbed while they were growing. Is this a fact-based conclusion? And will the increased biomass usage have any effect on the natural cycling of CO2 because it takes time for volume replacement?

Other biomass information of interest:

Biomass Emissions-Air Emissions from Modern Wood Energy Systems

Massachusetts Forest and Environment Threatened


Natural Gas Car Fuel Counterpoint

Compared to gasoline, compressed natural gas (CNG) is cleaner, less expensive, and generally comes from domestic reserves. However, CNG vehicles also require some compromises, including the use of a special refueling infrastructure that is not widely developed in the United States. Natural gas burns so cleanly that CNG vehicles rival hybrids in producing extremely low levels of smog-forming pollutants. However, CNG vehicles tend to have higher greenhouse gas emissions than hybrids. Natural gas is normally used in the U.S. to generate electricity, heat houses and businesses, and as a component in a variety of industrial processes. In the United States, a very small amount of natural gas (just one-tenth of 1% of all gas consumed) is also used as a fuel for vehicles. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, just 20 percent of the natural gas consumed in the United States last year was imported, and most of those imports came from Canada.

Natural gas advantages:

  1. Gas costs are lower than gasoline (approximately 1/3).
  2. Natural gas is convenient and abundant.
  3. Natural gas prices have exhibited significant stability compared to oil prices.
  4. Natural gas vehicles have lower maintenance costs.
  5. Natural gas fillup time is longer for natural gas (approx 1 hr).

Natural gas disadvantages:

  1. Harder to find a natural gas station than a “regular” gas station.
  2. More limited driving range (approximately 2/3).
  3. Natural gas is not inexhaustible just like “regular” gas.
  4. Because of the fuel storage tank size there is less space in the vehicle.
  5. A brand-new natural-gas vehicle costs $4,000 to $8,000 more than a comparable gasoline vehicle.
  6. Modifications typically cost $3,000 to $5,000 to change over a vehicle.

No one seems to care about the natural gas vehicle. Not government officials. Not auto executives. Not consumers. Not even some environmentalists.T. Boone Pickens is now talking about a plan for natural gas vehicles.

By an odd confluence of public policy and private initiative, Utah has become the first state in the country to experience broad consumer interest in the idea of running cars on clean natural gas (natural gas at $.90 vs $3.95 for gas).

From the facts it appears that natural gas has very little chance as a car fuel. However read this article:

Should the U.S. switch to Natural gas for transportation?

Some more interesting articles for facts:

  1. Natural gas organization.
  2. Wikipedia on natural gas.
  3. This auto fuel still cheaper.
  4. Five things you need to know about natural gas for auto fueling.
  5. Natural-gas guzzler.
  6. Plunge in Natural Gas Prices; new 7-year low

Click here to see other Counterpoint articles

Corn Food Fuel Counterpoint


After considerable investigation and searching of facts, it has become evident that the laws of physics and supply & demand are starting to show the result of cause and effect. Corn a main source of global food now competes as a source for fuel. The concern is to produce both efficiently without upsetting economies, interest groups, and provide needed food.


As energy demands devour crops once meant for sustenance, the economics of agriculture are being rewritten. The cost of $2 corn feed has swelled in a short span to $4 to $5. Corn is caught in a tug-of-war between ethanol plants and food, one of the first signs of a coming agricultural transformation and a global economic shift.


Corn used for food or fuel is a complex issue. Adoption of agricultural practices should take into account and evolve efficient methods of utilizing available land and other resources to meet both food and fuel needs. Will the food produced make it to those with the greatest need and cost?


Farmers can see good news in farm crops, but others can see problems with food supplies. Food and fuel markets are linked. What will cause efficient and stabilized market?


Can the UN or World Heath Organization be of any help as food is rationed? Are they a stabilizing influence?


Across the country, ethanol plants are swallowing up more and more of the nation’s corn crop, linking food and fuel prices just as oil is rising to new records.


The National Corn Growers Association “NCGA” represents the interests of approximately 33,000 dues-paying corn growers and of more than 300,000 farmers. The “NCGA” gives a convincing case of facts for corn as food and fuel in conjunction with the environment-Killing Myths on Ethanol. However, are all the facts presented?


Is corn food fuel “The Moral Equivalent of War”? Will corn prices be 41% higher than today’s price by 2020?


Is making ethanol an efficient cost effective method for fuel? At a time when ethanol-gasoline mixtures (gasohol) are touted as the American answer to fossil fuel shortages by corn producers, food processors and some lawmakers, Cornell’s David Pimentel takes a longer-range view.


The following graph shows the “Historic and Projected U. S. Corn Usage, 1995-2008”. It is important to note as the percentage of Ethanol increases the percentage of feed corn decreases. Also note that most corn produced is feed corn and not for human consumption.


There are increasingly those that would like to curb ethanol production, or have the Environmental Protection Agency to restructure rules that would require greater production of ethanol from corn. Critics of the proposal said that too much attention was being placed on ethanol as a reason for rising food prices, and that not enough attention was being placed on the role that rising crude oil prices. It’s for sure that food and fuel prices are escalating-good or bad?

Of interest are the candidate’s views on technological issues: Energy, Climate change, Space program, skilled worker shortage, and technology.

Car Fuel Efficiency Counterpoint

I’ve always appreciated a zippy, spacious, and fuel-efficient car. In fact that is my criteria when I goout looking for the next car. I attend the annual car shows and soon determine what is available fornew or future used car purchase. Dealers soon figure that out, and don’t waste their time on the standard promotions with me.

My first car was a 1964 white with red leather interior impala, bucket seats, and stick shift that got 13-17 mpg; now referred to as a boat. My second was a smaller zippy station wagon with bucket seats, and stick shift that got 30-35 mpg.

Over the years the car cost has gone up as safety improvements and fuel efficiency increases were declared by manufacturers. But the facts showed that the gas efficiency went from 30-35 mpg to 28-32 mpg-in the same ballpark. The increased car price was tied to the requirements of getting increased efficiency-but where was the increased efficiency that was professed over four decades.

For a brief history of the car fuel economy refer to this brief report and graph. My second car purchased had met the fuel economy, and this was the reason (along with the oil shortage-crisis) that forced congress to enact the nations first fuel economy standards.

For how we regulate and determine car fuel economy refer to this article. It depends on social issues and government regulation.

From the Green Car Congress-refer to the reported sales of hybrids. Yet the fuel efficiency is not increasing compared to the higher cost, and the disposal of battery materials.

Business Week reported on “The Road to a new CAFÉ Standard” that forces automakers to more fuel efficiency. Will automakers achieve a 35 mpg fuel economy standard by 2020-approximately the same as my second car?

The EPA is responsible for providing fuel economy (gas mileage) data that is posted on the window stickers of new vehicles. Will the government agencies (EPA, DOE, DOT IRS) be able to control the fuel efficiency or will the public dictate by what it buys?

National security and environmental quality concerns were important forces affecting the U.S. petroleum industry during the past 30 years. Much of the Federal legislation on petroleum was directly or indirectly associated with limiting petroleum imports or reducing petroleum-related pollution. Several political and economic events that occurred between 1970 and 2000 were critical because of the Nation’s dependence on petroleum imports.

The cost of a barrel of oil has been held below $35 in the past years. Now due to regulations, environmental concerns, and the world situation it is now above $100 per barrel. Is fuel efficiency and environmental factors our main concerns, or has our requirement and dependency on government regulation gotten out of hand? Is there a free market, or just a desire to force their ill begotten will on us?

Of interest are the candidate’s views on technological issues: Energy, Climate change, Space program, skilled worker shortage, and technology.

My second car was able to meet 30-35 mpg. My present car meets 28-32 mpg. Have all the years really brought about an improvement in fuel efficiency and environmental concerns? I know a car does cost considerably more, it is also easier to maintain, but fuel efficiency?