Yet Another Biomass Boondoggle?

Biomass-based energy at best is questionable economically and eclologically.  Read what a fudge-show ethanol as a bio-fuel has become, including this clear, simple explanation of how ridiculous government mandates have been.  Compare to this public plea for more government-forced market demand, and this hopeful (April, 2015) article.

Indeed, the outcry has been unrelenting, including this November, 2014 analysis (this, too).  Those follow this April, 2014 government study showing it's a net greenhouse gas polluter.  I've yet to see any liquid fuel undertaking make any sense.  Typical of what I've found:


A long time ago my friend Frieda commented on biofuels by saying, "Biofuels? Yeah, that's great: Burn all the food!"  She's not alone. CNN notes that biofuels "raise concerns over the impact on the global food supply."  And it doesn't even help our energy problem in the first place, because it takes nearly as much energy to farm the crops for biofuel as those crops produce -- and in same cases it takes even more energy!  And, surprise surprise, biofuels also cause more greenhouse emissions than conventional fuels.  Then there's deforestation. For example, Brazil as allowing 200 million hectares of tropical forest to be used to grow biofuels.  In any event, there is not nearly enough cropland available to grow enough biofuels to allow us to continue to waste ridiculous amounts of energy. Even if we all agreed to forego eating.

Since Repreve Renewables is literally my neighbor (just one farm away from mine) and is drawing water from the same source as mine (my immediately adjacent neighbor’s well ran dry, for the first time, after Repreve leveled a nearby forest to grow its heavily subsidized crop), I have just one question: Has any independent source analyzed Repreve to ensure that it's not another Range Fuels boondoggle ($320 million was lost on Range Fuels, as detailed hereherehere and here ("Range cost U.S. taxpayers $64 million and Georgia taxpayers another $6.2 million").  And pre-Range failure warnings that it was flawed at its core were simply ignored by bureaucrats eager to blow our money where private capitalists would not.

Not just the economics, but the "ecologics." That would be done by determining the net energy/ecological savings to this latest "magic fuel crop."  Hence, add up the energy/money spent on (1) land-clearing/planting; (2) crop tending and harvesting; (3) transporting resulting biomass to processing point; (4) converting it to consumable fuel; (5) transporting that fuel to its consumers; and (6) lost energy/pollution cost of consuming it (i.e. when one burns oil or coal one loses a percentage of its energy just burning it -- before its productive effect is even delivered to the consumer).

Then go back and run the same analysis regarding the harvest of energy from the sun (which is, after all, the net purpose of bio-massing) using, for example, Solar Photovoltaic panels: (1) up-front (including pollution) cost of manufacturing/transporting a solar array; (2) installing it and hooking it into the local power grid; and (3) watch your power bill decline, if not (as with mine) go negative and pay you money every month.   Also ask why the government forces liquid fuel products like ethanol on the masses (a pretty good sign that the free market doesn't want it, yeah?  But of course the bio-fuel producers want to use government to force their product on us whether it makes economic and "ecologic" sense or not).

Yes, we know what Repreve represents to potential purchasers of a license from it.  But it also warns: “REPREVE Renewables, LLC makes no representation, warranty, or guarantee of any kind with respect to: (i) any volume of sales. . . .”

Gee, if its product is such a net energy/wealth producer then ADM and Monsanto and the other agri-giants must be running with it full bore, no?  Are they?

For that matter, how much public largesse (taxpayer resources) is going into Repreve versus Solar?  Hint: Last year, Jill Stuckey of the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority (GEFA), the arm of Georgia’s government that exists to distribute our money to businessmen who obviously can’t attract 100% private capital (which is telling us something, yeah?) told me that GEFA is financially assisting Repreve.  Why?  And how much?  

A Repreve spokesman has written me and denied any direct subsidies.  That means either Jill told me wrong or I heard her wrong.  Here she is, by the way,  pleading for patience ("just give me 15 years and we'll do it," she says). And here's GEFA's 2011 Report showing $109,506,743 in public funds spent on "Energy & Environment" (right, it provides no detail).

Meanwhile, Repreve is still feeding off the demand-side subsidy trough.  In fact, here’s what its own website says: “Under the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP), the USDA and FSA is providing significant incentives to encourage eligible growers to convert idle land to productive acreage. Some of the illustrations below incorporate BCAP incentives into the numbers.” These are the same feds who built the Church of Ethanol (click here, too) and poured $64 million (via direct subsidies) of our money down the Range Fuels rat hole.

In other words, we're stuck with another product that can’t work on the free market without all of us being forced to invest in it. Repreve ain't making something people want.  We know this because it's bribing us -- with our own taxpayer money -- to buy it. As scammy as The Church of Ethanol?

"Any defense of the ethanol policy rests on fallacies, primarily these: that ethanol produced from corn makes the United States less dependent on fossil fuels; that ethanol lowers the price of gasoline; that an increase in the percentage of ethanol blended into gasoline increases the overall supply of gasoline; and that ethanol is environmentally friendly and lowers global carbon dioxide emissions."  (Source).

At the same time, GEFA has no solar power program and thus distributes no funding for it.  Indeed, Georgia itself has no solar power program, even though it enjoys a higher insolation (convertable sunlight) zone than Germany, which outpaces the USA in solar power production.

What Georgia does have is plenty of politicians who cop photo opps for “energy” businesses that got to the public trough first, and in a very complex yet free-market-unproven field.  See also this history and analysis on cellulosic ethanol, concluding that it will never make economic sense.

As a taxpayer, I hope Repreve’s product works both economically and ecologically.  I just wonder why I’m forced (via my tax dollars) to invest in it whether I want it or not.  People lined up overnight to buy Apple’s latest unsubsidized product (read: no one had to bribe them to buy it).  Lobbyists, in contrast, line up to grease politicians who then force us to buy “magic fuel” products.  Is this one of them? 

My Repreve friend insists that tons of private investment dollars, and no direct-subsidy dollars, have gone into its efforts.  And in fairness to Repreve, a lot of the agricultural sector has grown fat on subsidies (I myself am a beneficiary).

But at $18Trillion in debt, when are we entitled to purge the Welfare Capitalism that's crept over our economy?  When might we stop pouring tax dollars into projects that private capital refuses to touch without some sort of loan guarantee or other public backstop (here, a home-grown, demand-side subsidy to ensure sales, which means the Repreve investors aren't confident enough that their product could stand on its own and compete on the open market like iPads, toilet paper, blenders, and any other free market product)?

Anyway, here's a pro-biomass article.  Here's another one. And here's Wikipedia's entry on it.  

Here's a July, 2013, article on the state of bio fuels generally.

Here's a company claiming success converting wood-industry waste to energy -- sure hope that works.  It has the same core appeal as Range Fuels' quest to profit from cellulosic ethanol (convert mostly pine wood wasted to ethanol).  But understand that it's not a Joe Six Pack remedy -- not something a homeowner can do -- because it still relies on burning wood, and if you burn anything and/or consume water you will incur government regulation of some sort (rightly so, we all have to breathe the resulting air pollution, and we're all going to fight over fresh water consumption in the future; this is not a mass-scale product like grid-tied Solar PV can be).

Here's another entrant into the field.  This source (but hey, note its locale) claims ethanol's helped lower gas prices in the U.S., but it does not mention the net cost of the taxpayer subsidies and other (water, soil-nutrient-consumption, etc.) production costs.

Check the yield claim made here ("The California biofuel company Cool Planet BioFuels has announced the successful test of a pilot biorefinery that can convert an acre of the giant grass miscanthus into gasoline at the rate of 4,000 gallons per acre. You read that right – the process yields straight, drop-in quality gasoline that is chemically identical to its petroleum-based cousin").

But I find very convincing this history and analysis on cellulosic ethanol, concluding that it will never make economic sense.  6/1/12: Here's yet another publicly financed ethanol boondoggle in the making. 10/29/12:  Here's one in trouble, too.

And whenever someone touts "jobs," I know they've got nothing constructive to say (sure, the government can spend a trillion paying people to move mountains with teaspoons, but that doesn't mean it makes sense to do that).

Here's a company that bought Range Fuels's assets.

December, 2012:  A new biomass facility in Dublin County, Georgia.  Subsidized?  Check out opposition to one here.

May, 2013:  Torrefaction

August, 2013:  A hopeful breakthrough