Category Archives: biofuels

IEA: World Water Day Awareness of Water Use in Energy Production

“Water availability is a growing concern for energy, and assessing the energy sector’s use of water is important in an increasingly water-constrained world” —IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven

Tomorrow is officially designated “World Water Day” and this week, the IEA has been trying to raise awareness about the amount of water used to produce energy – on Twitter. The chart below is from the IEA’s World Energy Outlook 2012 PDF “Water for Energy – Is Energy Becoming a Thirstier Resource?

Please take note of the fact that the bottom half of the chart relates to water requirements for producing biofuels, and also note the differences between the various biofuels water requirements. Especially, note the minimum for each biofuel, which is defined as “non-irrigated crops whose only water requirements are for processing into fuels.” (This chart should also help drive home the fact that using irrigated corn to produce ethanol is highly irrational and wastes a precious resource, something that should be corrected by policy – now.)

To follow, are some of the IEA’s tweets (and facts from the PDF linked above), (rewritten for clarity), that contain some very interesting statistics about water use in energy production:

It can take nearly 60 gallons of water to power a 60-Watt incandescent light bulb for 12 hours.

154.3 trillion gallons of freshwater are used in energy production per year.

Water requires energy, and energy requires water: Each kilowatt hour of electricity requires the withdrawal of approximately 25 gallons of water.

Energy depends on water for power generation, extraction, transport and processing of fossil fuels, and irrigation of biofuels feedstock crops.

Energy accounts for 15% of global water usage, and will consume ever more through 2035.

Global water withdrawals for energy production in 2010 were estimated at 583 billion cubic metres (bcm), or some 15% of the world’s total water withdrawals. Of that, water consumption – the volume withdrawn but not returned to its source – was 66 bcm. In the New Policies Scenario, withdrawals increase by about 20% between 2010 and 2035, but consumption rises by a more dramatic 85%. These trends are driven by a shift towards higher efficiency power plants with more advanced cooling systems (that reduce withdrawals but increase consumption per unit of electricity produced) and by expanding biofuels production. (source: PDF)

So, as we can see, the IEA’s anticipated increase in biofuels production between 2010 and 2035 accounts for a large share of the anticipated increased demand for water used to produce energy.

In the energy-food-water nexus, water is the member of that threesome that is increasingly grabbing the headlines. And, in my opinion, a more accurate description of the problem we face would be the energy-food-water-biofuels nexus.

(IEA’s Twitter Feed)

2035 Energy Infographic from BP with Global Biofuels Predictions

This BP Energy Outlook 2035 Infographic depicts the key themes from (2014′s) BP Energy Outlook 2035. According BP’s annual report, North America will become a net exporter of energy around 2018, Asia will account for nearly all of the growth in energy trade, China will consume the most energy, biofuels production will continue upwards, and the U.S. will make major progress towards achieving energy independence. If this report comes true, then we will be seeing a very different set of conditions related to energy production and consumption by 2035.

Also, the report predicts a complete breakout of GDP from energy, or, in other words, a decoupling of energy from economic growth between now and 2035, a process which has already begun.

More (U.S.) points:
• Fossil fuels still account for 80% of US energy demand in 2035, down from today’s 85%, driven by the increase of renewables in power generation from 2% to 8%.
• Energy consumed in power generation rises by 10% and while coal remains the dominant fuel source, its share drops from 43% to 35%.
• Energy consumed in transport falls by 18%. Oil remains the dominant fuel source, but its share falls from 95% to 83% as both biofuels and natural gas capture an 8% share by 2035.

Biofuels are to account for 3% of global liquids supplies in 2035, equal to 1.9 millions of barrels per day.

Lastly, this graphic shows a guesstimate of biofuels in relation to all the other liquid fuel supply types by 2035 – on the global level.


EIA: U.S. Biodiesel Production and Ethanol Export Numbers


This 4-year chart from the EIA shows us that corn ethanol export amounts have fallen off in 2013 as compared to recent years:



When you look at the following graph through July 2013, you can see how much biodiesel production has been increasing over the past year. I found it interesting that 11 percent of the biodiesel feedstocks used in July were from corn and that 25 percent of the biodiesel feedstocks were from lesser sources.

• U.S. production of biodiesel was 128 million gallons in July 2013. This was an increase from production of 113 million gallons in June 2013. Biodiesel production from the Midwest region (Petroleum Administration for Defense District 2) was 64% of the U.S. total. Production came from 111 biodiesel plants with operable capacity of 2.1 billion gallons per year.

• Producer sales of biodiesel during July 2013 included 87 million gallons sold as B100 (100% biodiesel) and an additional 40 million gallons of B100 sold in biodiesel blends with diesel fuel derived from petroleum.

• There were a total of 978 million pounds of feedstocks used to produce biodiesel in July 2013. Soybean oil was the largest biodiesel feedstock during July 2013 with 480 million pounds consumed. The next three largest biodiesel feedstocks during the period were corn oil (108 million pounds), yellow grease (97 million pounds), and tallow (45 million pounds).

source: EIA


Also, in recent news, the Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack has announced a new $181 million in loan guarantees to build refineries or to retrofit existing biorefineries to produce advanced biofuels.

3 Picks: Fungi Biofuel, Sugar Ethanol, Biobutanol


Below, are today’s three chosen agricultural-related news picks.

1) Bacteria and Fungi Together: A Biofuel Dream Team? From Scientific American by Erin Brodwin. Researchers at the Univ. of Michigan have created isobutanol from cornhusks, E. coli, and the fungi Trichoderma reesei. “Often when scientists arbitrarily combine organisms in the laboratory, one will outgrow another, driving it to extinction. Yet T. reesei and E. coli exhibited the one characteristic necessary for any stable system: synergy. “We allowed the natural dynamics to emerge,” Minty says. This interaction, which Minty and his team call a cooperator-cheater mechanism, allow the bacteria and fungi to maintain a state of balance. When the fungi degrade materials in the cornhusks into sugars, some of that action takes place on its surface. T. reesei thus gets the first crack at using them, preventing E. coli, which is far more efficient at snatching them up, from stealing all of the sugars and potentially starving out T. reesei.” K.M.: A number of years ago the very popular fungi-will-solve-the-world’s-problems-guy, Paul Stamets, sounded like making biofuel with fungi was a no-brainer. I’ve wondered what has happened to his project, but this article would suggest it is a hopeful field of study. Don’t miss comment #1. @Talli calls this project bogus.

2) Taxpayer Funded Sugar-for-Ethanol Program: “U.S. sugar processors have offered to sell 90,150 tonnes of sugar to the U.S. Department of Agriculture as part of its “sugar-for-ethanol” program, designed to reduce an oversupply and boost domestic prices, the government said on Wednesday. The USDA will sell the sugar to ethanol producers, aiming at averting mass forfeitures of sugar that was used as collateral for government-backed loans. The Obama administration inaugurated a program last week to buy unwanted sugar and sell it at a loss to ethanol makers to produce more biofuels and mitigate a costly sugar surplus.”

3) Biobased butanol, butadiene and BDO are having a hot year: Jim Lane tells us “complex, multi-carbon drop-in renewable diesel, jet fuels and biodiesel have been the expansion story for advanced biofuels in the past three years — if any platform could be described as the “hottest of the hottest” right row, four-carbon chemicals and fuels are right in the heart of the roaster right now.” K.M.: Corn growers are no doubt quite hopeful about using corn to produce this drop-in fuel.

BONUS: I highly recommend viewing this slideshow with excellent and informative commentary on no-till and cover-crops.

This news post was written and compiled by K. McDonald.

Graph of Top Global Biofuels Producing Nations in 2012

As you can see in the above graph, the leading nations in biofuel production in 2012 were the U.S. followed by Brazil, Germany, Argentina, France and China. All other individual nations were below the level of three percent.

Biofuels are one part of the renewables category of energy, as defined by the BP report, along with wind and solar. In 2012, the renewables category provided 2.4% of global energy consumption, up from .8% in 2002. A record was set in renewables used for global power generation, at 4.7% last year. Global biofuels, however, saw the first decline in production since 2000.

This information was obtained from the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2013 and includes data from F.O. Lichts; US Energy Information Administration.

ALSO SEE: Graph of Total Global Biofuels Production 2002 – 2012