A Personal Journey Part II: A Chemical Engineering Magazine Article

Dante’s Forest Dark
Dante’s Forest Dark

A Personal Journey

The second chapter of the book A New City of God: Theology in an Age of Limits describes my personal journey through Dante’s “Forest Dark” as I learned more about the changes that are taking place, and as I thought about the theological implications of such changes.

The sections of that chapter are shown below. Every so often I will write a blog to do with one of these topics. In this blog let’s take a look at the third entry (highlighted in red): A Chemical Engineering Magazine Article.

  • A Brief Biography
  • The Machine Stops
  • A Chemical Engineering Magazine Article
  • Entropy: Into the Greenhouse World
  • A History of Knowledge
  • Twilight in the Desert
  • Down The Hubbert Curve
  • The Archdruid Report
  • Hard Times for These Times
  • Oil Price Collapse
  • Hegelian Synthesis
  • Jevons Paradox
  • Sustainable Growth: An Oxymoron
  • Peak Prosperity
  • Post Carbon Institute
  • Cassandra’s Legacy
  • Resource Insights
  • Francis I
  • The Last Question
  • The Journey
  • The Ladder of Awareness

A Chemical Engineering Magazine Article

Ethanol as fuel

My first glimpse of long-term limitations in our energy supplies was provided by an article I read in a chemical engineering journal. Unfortunately, I do not recall who wrote the article or when it was published — my best guess would be around the year 2005. The article described the relatively new concept of converting corn (maize) into ethanol which could then be added to gasoline, thereby reducing the need for imported oil.

The author examined the ethanol production process in terms of net energy. He found, evidently to his disbelief, that it might take more energy to manufacture ethanol than the ethanol provides as fuel. In other words, the ethanol-as-fuel program actually increases the importation of oil from foreign suppliers. What struck me about the article was the tone of surprise that was evident in the author’s conclusions. It was as if he had started a straightforward journey to a known destination, but had somehow been sidetracked into unexpected territory. In fact, he had stumbled across the crucially important concept of Energy Returned on Energy Invested (ERoEI), a topic that I will discuss in later posts.

The author did not go on to discuss non-economic issues. For example, would the corn be better used to feed the world’s hungry people? Or does fuel containing ethanol have less of a global warming impact? And then there is the politics; farmers who grow corn naturally want their market to expand. We begin to see just how tricky discussions to do with Age of Limits issues can be.

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