Mar 24, 2008

We are using how much fuel?!

I was going to do a different sort of analysis about this... but the scale of these numbers just wowed me so I'll let them speak for themselves.

Oregon's 2006 consumption of petroleum fuel:
4,314,400 gallons per day of gasoline (source)
2,266,600 gallons per day of diesel (source)

Oregon's 2006 consumption of biofuel:
38,356 gallons per day of ethanol (source)
10,959 gallons per day of biodiesel (source, which is a estimate)

Now with that in mind, how much of this is actually being produced in Oregon?

Oregon's 2006 production of petroleum fuel:
121 gallons per day of production capacity (source, I don't know if this is actually being produced)

Oregon's 2008 production of biofuel:
405,479 gallons per day of ethanol (source)
7,547 gallons per day of biodiesel (source)

So... what is the take away message here? Only a fraction of the fuel we use in Oregon is made from biofuel, but the impact has been huge:
  • Bringing fuel production back in state
  • Giving farmers access to a new market
  • Decreasing carbon dioxide emissions
  • Proving that not only is there an alternative to petroleum fuel, there are thousands of people who want this alternative
Everyone who has chosen to fuel up with biofuel is part of this change; we are still at the beginnings of it, but there is nowhere to go but up from here!

Mar 13, 2008

Thought leaders piece; Where gas money goes

C3 Press [Carbon Constrained Communications] recently released their first issue of "Thought Leaders of the New Energy Economy", which included a piece by SeQuential CEO Dave Garten, as well as by leaders in other industries. Check it out here (255k pdf).


The latest NACS (a gas station / convenience store association) magazine published some interesting facts regarding where money goes on a gallon of gas, using 2007 average prices.
  • 58%: Crude Oil
  • 17%: Refining
  • 15%: Taxes
  • 9%: Distribution and Retail (20% of which goes to credit card companies)
  • 1%: store income
This is slightly misleading though, since taxes ($0.484 is Oregon + Federal tax), distribution and retail (a set few cents per gallon), and store income (a set few cents per gallon) are all fixed numbers that don't change with gas prices. Simply put, when you read of crude oil prices hitting all time highs, gas stations aren't making any more money, the people pulling oil out of the ground are.

For users of pure biofuel, the taxes, distribution and retail, and store income would all be about the same. I'm not sure how the rest of it goes, but my guess is that the raw materials (raw oil and other production inputs) would make up by far the largest percentage.

Mar 11, 2008

Follow-up on food prices

The New York Times published an interesting (and albeit disturbing) article about food prices and how they are going up because of demand and worldwide crop shortages. One quote pretty much sums it all up:
“Everyone wants to eat like an American on this globe."
As the lives of people in developing nations stabilize, they move away from "traditional" crops and import more food. Supply and high demand at work, plus a little drought and failed crops equals higher prices. America's high production and the weak dollar are also at play.

[As an aside, I just have to mention that biofuels were not once mentioned in this article.]

What is really disturbing, something that I haven't been able to internalize yet, are the comments about how cheap food is not going to be reality for much longer. As a child of the 80's, I've never seen high commodity food prices, and I know that I've been taking this for granted.

Beans and rice have always been cheap, because they are beans and rice...

If these basic commodity prices go up, what happens to everyone who is depending on cheap food to feed their families? What happens to people who gave up farming because they can import cheaper grains?

This really is one more argument for local: take control of your food and take control of your fuel by sourcing from your region. When you need to augment your supply, import.

Mar 7, 2008

The search for better fuel starts with better plants

There is a new player on the local scene for biofuels - a plant called camelina. Camelina is part of the brassicaceae family along with canola, whose oil SeQuential uses in biodiesel production. Other more familiar brassicaceae are cabbage and turnips.

Camelina has been more or less overlooked in this region (with the exception of Montana) but its value as a rotational crop is starting to be realized. Rotational crops are used to break pest cycles and to revitalize soil that has only seen one crop grown on it season after season. Breaking pest cycles means that fewer pesticides have to be used, which is better for the health of farmers, laborers and the rest of us. This also decreases costs, as
taken from the Eastern Oregonian:
... research shows [camelina] is well suited to conditions in the Pacific Northwest, requires low inputs of water and nutrients, and reduces disease, insect and weed pressure in wheat fields planted the following year.

"We are all painfully aware of the recent cost increases of inputs to grow conventional crops," he said, noting the cost of glyphosate, the main ingredient in products such as Round-Up, for example, increased significantly recently.

"If you are concerned about these costs, you should look at a crop like camelina," Johnson said. 'It can provide a net return equal to spring wheat without the high initial outlay of pesticides and a far lower need for nitrogen and we can harvest in July."
Camelina, just like canola, produces seeds that have a high oil content. These seeds get crushed by a crusher (Willamette Biomass Processors for example) that squeezes out the oil, which is turned into cleaner-burning biodiesel. The leftover crushed seed is a meal that goes to livestock as feed. I don't know what livestock think about camelina meal, but I know cows love canola meal - it was once described to me as 'cattle crack'.

So why am I excited about camelina? Both camelina and canola are rotational oilseed crops that don't require much water or fertilizer and canola actually has a higher output of oil per acre. More oil = more biodiesel, but because camelina is better on the land and can be grown on marginal soil, it pulls ahead as a better choice in my book.