Monthly Archives: July 2012

Corn Should Not Be Used To Make Automobile Fuel

US farms that grow corn are mainly located in the Midwest.  The Midwest is experiencing a drought that the head agriculture meteorologist with MDA EarthSat say is the worst since 1988.  The MDA EarthSat group is estimating a corn yield of about 118 bushels per acre this year.  In a good year, the corn yield is about 150 to 160 bushels per acre which suggests that this year’s yield will be about 75% of normal.  Shortages always have a way of driving the price of a commodity upward.  However making the likelihood of even higher prices for corn is the fact that the ethanol mixed with gasoline is essentially produced from corn.

It is estimated that about 40% of the corn produced last year was used to make ethanol fuel.  The refiners are required to use ethanol and most filling stations have a 10%ethanol/90% gasoline blend.  Last year 14.2 billion gallons of ethanol were blended with gasoline.   By law, in 2012,  15.2 billion gallons of ethanol must be used.  Of that total, 13.2 must be from corn ethanol.  The remainder must be not corn based.  In order to get a better understanding of what is going on, a brief review of the Renewable Fuel Standard will probably be helpful.

In 2005, Congress enacted the Energy Policy Act of 2005.  It mandated minimum ethanol use.  However, two years later the Energy Independence and Security Act superseded and expanded the Energy Policy Act of 05 and set new, larger use requirements as well as added requirements for cellulosic based ethanol. Cellulosic means from corncobs, wood chips, straw, grass, etc.—by and large almost anything but from the corn kernel (corn starch).  These two acts combined are often referred to as Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS2).  Further RFS2 set a maximum use level for cornstarch-based ethanol at 15.0 billion gallons.  The Environmental Protection Agency(EPA) is responsible for establishing and implementing regulations to ensure that the nation’s transportation fuel supply contains the mandated biofuels volumes.


2011 13.95 12.6 0.0066 1.1
2012 15.20 13.2 0.0085 1.5
2015 20.50 15.0 3.00 TBD
2020 30.00 15.0 10.5 TBD
2022 36.00 15.0



If you are wondering if the EPA will enforce the law designating mandated minimum use, the following story will be instructive:  The 2011 requirement for minimum usage of cellulosic ethanol is 6.6 million gallons.—(See chart above and note 0.0066.)  No one is making cellulosic ethanol so there is none available for use.   None-the-less, the companies that supply motor fuels are being fined $6 million because they failed to mix cellulosic ethanol into their motor fuels.   Go figure.

Corn is a major source of food for humans and it is also it is a major source of animal feed.  The price of beef, pork and chicken for example are directly affected by the increase in livestock feed prices. Much has been written about the negative impact of soaring corn prices on the well being of people all over the world.

As noted earlier, ethanol is mandated to be used in gasoline. It is said that the some of the corn used for making ethanol is somewhat different from the corn that normally goes into the food chain.  But that corn will also suffer a loss due to the drought making it necessary for the ethanol manufacturers to buy more food corn to supply ethanol to the gasoline suppliers. Thus the fuel chain will be bidding against the food chain for the limited supply of corn.

The commodities markets are showing this now.  According to reliable sources, corn that was going for $2.00 a bushel in 2005 when this legislation was enacted now sells for over $8 per bushel.  Because ethanol is mandated, the cost of ethanol for blending has little meaning to a gasoline producer as all gasoline producers must use it regardless of cost.  The cost of the ethanol will be passed on to the motorists.

Actually, ethanol is not viable economically but only used because of the mandate.  It will never be in sufficient supply to be a replacement for gasoline.  According to a study reported by Wikipedia, if you are concerned about greenhouse gases, ethanol’s use is a negative:  “A team led by Searchinger from Princeton University concluded that once direct and indirect effect of land use changes are considered, both corn and cellulosic ethanol increased carbon emissions as compared to gasoline by 93 and 50 percent respectively.”

The driving force for the use of corn to make ethanol is the votes that politicians get from their farming constituents. The other reasons weigh against using an important food source to make an automobile fuel.


Chicago Heat Wave–Wind Farms Fail To Provide Power

Chicago, Illinois and the surrounding areas of Central and Northern Illinois experienced very high temperatures in the first and second weeks of July.   One day topped out at 104 F with air conditioners going full out. It is at times like these that electrical utilities experience their highest demand.   They were up to the task although one segment of those utilities that was not.  The segment that flunked the test was the wind farms.  High temperatures and low temperatures most often are accompanied by near zero wind.   Wind farms are most likely to be unproductive at the times when they are most needed.

(picture byYellow Dandelions © 2009)   

Lets look at what happened during the heat wave based on the research by Jonathan Lesser

“Illinois wind generated less than five percent of its capacity during the record breaking heat last week, producing only an average of 120 MW of electricity from the over 2,700 MW installed.  On July 6th, when the demand for electricity in northern Illinois and Chicago averaged 22,000 MW, the average amount of wind power available during the day was a virtually nonexistent four MW, less than the output of two large wind turbines, or about and enough power to operate 4,000 blow dryers. In fact, the most electricity wind produced on any day during last week’s heat wave was an average of 320 MW on July 3rd, or about 10 percent of the capacity of the wind turbines built in Illinois, when temperatures soared to 103 degrees. Wind power’s failure during last week’s extended heat wave is no fluke. When I performed a similar analysis last summer, the results were the same: the hotter the weather and greater customers’ demand for electricity, the less electricity produced from wind.”  To read all of Lesser’s report click here.

The Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) calls wind farm-produced energy “non-dispatchable” which means it is too unreliable to be scheduled for use as a supply to the gird that distributes electricity to the many users.  State laws often require the grid to use this alternative form of energy.  So in order assure the capability of the gird to supply electricity to their customers, they require backup power supply for every MW of installed wind farm power. This backup is typically provided by natural gas turbine power generating facilities.  These natural gas turbines are kept hot ––ready to turn on quickly.  When the wind quits blowing, the lost wind farm produced electricity must be matched by a new supply.  The natural gas turbines are quickly put into service.  This means that wind farms capacity must be matched through the expenditure of additional monies for natural gas power generation facilities.  Thus the wind farm generated power is not a primary source of power. It is supplemental form of supply.  Think about that.  Installation of wind farms (and for that matter the even more expensive solar power) are not primary sources but rather supplementary.  In plain English, electricity generated by fossil fuel and nuclear power are the primary sources and the expensive, unreliable, non-dispatchable wind farms are supplemental.  Every day you are paying for the installation of more wind farms, which are never likely to be the primary.   Time you made the politician and their cronies answer why they are foisting this on you.



How Many Years Of No Global Warming Are Required To Disprove CO2 As The Primary Factor In Global Warming?

The WoodforTrees Chart below shows no Global warming since 1997 to date.  The data used to construct the chart came from Hadley Center and University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit—yes this is the CRU of Climategate fame.

(click on charts for clarity.)

During this period, carbon dioxide (CO2) has increased from about 362 ppm in 1997 to 396ppm by mid-year 2012.  (See atmospheric CO2 chart below.)  If CO2 is the potent forcing agent claimed by the proponents of the man-made global warming theory, then why are the global temperatures flat?   15 years of no statistically significant global temperature increase are in the books. When is enough, enough.  Last I heard, the warmers had lengthened the needed time to 17 years.  Want to bet that when 17 years arrives and the temperature shows no increase, that they will want to lengthen the time needed, once again.


This posting is not to deny that for 10,000 years or so the globe has been warming.   Rather it is to demonstrate that no one really has proven the cause to be other than “natural”.

Do you hear a chorus of “cherrypicking” from the warmers? Please note that their CO2 theory was postulated during a period of rising global temperatures and a corresponding atmospheric CO2 increase.  We said then, about their theory, that correlation does not prove causation.  And we were right.   15 years of no correlation proves no causation.


Volt: Refund Policy Allows For Tax Credit Abuse and Other Issues

General Motors (GM) provides a 60-day money back policy for all Chevy models.   So if you buy a Volt you can claim a $7500 federal tax credit.  Then 59 days later, return it and get your money back.  But, you may get to keep the tax credit.  According to a posting by Mark Modica, the IRS tax form for plug-in vehicle credit does not have a minimum time requirement for the buyer to own their qualified vehicle.   Ok, so it is doubtful that anyone will buy a series of Volts in order to accumulate tax credits.  But this is just another glitch in the Volt epic.

So how is the Volt doing now as opposed to how GM felt about the Volt in the days before the first sales?  In a November, 2010 posting in WardsAuto the following was reported:

In 2012, the automaker plans to reach production capacity for the Volt at its Detroit-Hamtramck, MI, assembly plant here with about 45,000 units annually for U.S. consumption. Including export to markets such as Canada and China, capacity could reach 60,000 cars annually.

Well, they are missing the 2012 sales forecast by a wide margin.  Sales were not too good even when gasoline prices approached $4 per gallon earlier this year (2012). Will it get any better if the price of gasoline continues it’s current decline?

And in that same WardsAuto posting the following was reported:

General Motors Co. executives call the new-for-’11 Chevrolet Volt a key first step in the electrification of all its products, while also confirming long-held assumptions the car will not make money in the first years of production. However, the typical all-new vehicle program for an automaker averages $1 billion. Given its sophisticated technology, the Volt likely will cost much more to develop, build and sell.

It can’t be making money now if 45,000 units are just breakeven.  Somehow a lot of cars will have to be sold to amortize the $1 billion cost of development.



Why Does The US Have The Lead On Shale Gas?

The United States (US) is now ranked as the world’s leading producer of natural gas.  The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) says that this lead is partly due to the abundant shale resources we have—though many other countries have those too.   Partly due to our technological leadership in developing hydraulic fracturing (fracking)—but these techniques are known all over the world now.  The edge is really a result of private ownership of subsurface mineral resources.   Almost no major country recognizes full subsurface private property rights, except the US.  Quoting from the WJS: “….this blessing of American jurisprudence helps explain one of the few bright patches in the Obama economy—the booming production of shale gas and increasingly, oil.”

There is a profit motive driving the property owner as well as the driller. Typically the property owners get a royalty checks from the driller representing a percentage of the worth of the value of oil produced. Often the royalty percentage is 12.5%.  (My home in Texas was built well after the East Texas oil boom.  By then all the subsurface mineral rights had been sold/leased and my deed spelled out that I had no ownership. There were number of wells back in the woods behind my house. Someone was getting royalty checks, but alas, it was not I.)

But many people in North Dakota (Bakken Shale) and Pennsylvania (Marcellus Shale), for example, have leased their mineral rights and natural gas is being produced.  And the landowners are getting royalty checks!

France and Bulgaria have banned fracking. Because these governments own the subsurface property rights, there has been no pushback from the landowners.   In other countries where fracking has not been banned, the governments are moving at a glacial pace.

Quoting the WSJ: “ ….the deeper lesson is that this is a revolution that came about not through government planning or foresight, but through a combination of individual risk-taking and private property. “

Thank heavens for these privately owned resources.  Unfortunately, favorable outcomes are not happening where the US government has control of natural gas and oil.  The Obama Administration puts up road blocks in the way of the exploitation of resources found in places like  Off-Shore, Federal lands, and the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve.


Solar Cycle 24 Update June 2012

The Sunspots and F10.7 flux are slightly lower in June than in the previous month.  April next year is still the expert’s rough timing for Cycle 24 maximum.   After the usual charts, a chart is added  showing how Solar Cycles 21, 22 and 23 compare with the current Cycle 24.    This is a good illustration of how much less active Cycle 24 is. This chart is from:

(click on the charts for clarity)

These charts would have been posted earlier but a death within the family has occupied my time for the past several weeks.


June Global Temperature Update

The UAH satellite global temperature for June 2012 departure from average is +0.37C.   The upward trend from last month continues.

I am adding in its entirety, a discussion regarding satellite temperatures by Dr. Spencer.

Latest Global Average Tropospheric Temperatures

Since 1979, NOAA satellites have been carrying instruments which measure the natural microwave thermal emissions from oxygen in the atmosphere. The signals that these microwave radiometers measure at different microwave frequencies are directly proportional to the temperature of different, deep layers of the atmosphere. Every month, John Christy and I update global temperature datasets (see here and here)that represent the piecing together of the temperature data from a total of eleven instruments flying on eleven different satellites over the years. As of early 2012, our most stable instrument for this monitoring is the Advanced Microwave Sounding Unit (AMSU-A) flying on NASA’s Aqua satellite and providing data since late 2002.

The graph above represents the latest update; updates are usually made within the first week of every month. Contrary to some reports, the satellite measurements are not calibrated in any way with the global surface-based thermometer records of temperature. They instead use their own on-board precision redundant platinum resistance thermometers calibrated to a laboratory reference standard before launch.