Friday, February 25, 2011

No, no, no, no!

Spain will lower highway speed limits, cut train ticket prices and use more biofuel under an emergency energy-saving initiative because of soaring oil prices brought on by unrest in Libya, an official said Friday.
Finally, oil companies will also have to add more bio-fuel to the gasoline and diesel they produce — from the current mandatory 5.8 percent proportion, up to 7 percent, the deputy prime minister said.
Emphasis mine. This is an unbelievably counterproductive thing to do. A significant part of the cause of the unrest in the Middle East is due to high food prices. The regimes are all rushing out buying food in an attempt to appease their populations. The unrest is now sharply increasing oil prices, and the geniuses in the Spanish government want to respond by calling for more food to be converted into biofuel, thus further increasing the strain on food prices?


John said...

But at the margin, using less oil will reduce the price of oil and hence the price of food.

Doyu Shonin/Risa Bear said...

Meanwhile "55 Stay Alive" was a slogan we should never have given up. I'd follow Spain's lead on driving speeds.

Unknown said...

Catabolic collapse? :-)

porsena said...

The collector car crowd has developed a dislike for ethanol blends because they go bad much faster than straight gasoline. Admittedly, these folk are not part of the mainstream but they're typically pretty well connected. No less a personage then Jay Leno recently had had a segment about this on his video blog.

The same issue, the instability of ethanol blends in storage, affects the owners of seasonally used boats. I've never understood why there isn't more discussion and complaint about this.

Stuart Staniford said...

John: No - the energy content of the ethanol is far less than the energy content of the food it was made from, and furthermore the energy content of the global fuel supply is an order of magnitude larger than the energy content of the global food supply. So when you convert food into fuel (or, equivalently, food acres into fuel acres), it has a much bigger effect in raising the price of food than it does on lowering the price of fuel.

Folks might want to read Fermenting the Food Supply (which for a while I thought was a bit alarmist, but now I'm not so sure).

Also, that piece inspired this particularly prescient guest post by Yair Wallach: Bread and Oil: Rising Food Prices and the Middle East

Lars-Eric Bjerke said...


There is a paper from Alekl├Ątt´s group that supports your position on ethanol from agricultural crops, but that is not the whole story.

“Clearly, very little, or nothing, remains for biofuel from agricultural primary crops. However, by using residues and bioorganic waste, it was found that biofuel production could theoretically replace one fourth of the global consumption of fossil fuels for transport.”

p01 said...


What exactly did you expect? And since we (should by now) know that the root problem is the population explosion, what solutions do you see if any?


bordoe said...


You're correct; the ethanol->grain complex prices->unrest->calls for more ethanol cycle is very "D'OH!"

But at least Spain is asking for behavioral changes from citizens, not merely relying on the ethanol.

Could Obama do the same in the US?

FoxNews and the whole right wing media complex will likely go nuts.

They'll blame the lack of drilling or the EPA or this or that law.

And in the end, it probably wont amount to much because people need to drive to live in 80% of the US.

At least Spain is getting its population to sacrifice SOMETHING.


Thanks for the blog!

Hypnos said...

There are biofuels that could potentially work. Camelina is grown in rotation with wheat, when the field is otherwise left fallow, and it actually replenishes some soil nutrients to the point of bumping up subsequent wheat crops, without requiring high levels of inputs.

Salicornia is a salt marsh grass that can be grown in desert land irrigated with sea water. A project in Eritrea showed that you could reclaim substantial amounts of barren land by the seaside, establishing an integrated system with shrimp and tilapia farms, salicornia and mangrove plantations, and artificial marshes, producing food and biofuel and basically self-fertilizing itself (only external input are small amounts of electricity to pump the seawater, but those can be obtained by burning the salicornia strawmass - the oil is taken from the seeds).

US corn ethanol is the worst possible kind of biofuel that there is. That is the problem.

John said...

Stuart, thanks for your comments and links. On reflection, I see converting food crops to biofuel crops as (A) increasing the price of food and (B) reducing the price of oil. This assumes however that it takes no more oil to grow biofuel crops than food crops - not sure if this is true. Maybe Spain (USA?, UK?) would be better off reducing its oil imports but increasing its food imports? I guess US corn ethanol is an experiment in this...

John said...

PS. I agree that biofuel increases the price of food for the poor. But then so does eating meat and wasting food. Maybe the issue is raising the income of the poor so that they can afford the prices dictated by our affluent choices?