Daily Archives: September 11, 2013

Climate Scientists Killed in Chopper Crash While Studying Arctic Ice

I just heard about this:

University of Manitoba climatologist among three killed in fatal crash in Arctic Ocean

A Manitoba researcher is dead after a helicopter crashed into the Arctic Ocean Monday evening.

The University of Manitoba climatologist, Klaus Hochheim, was among three people who died in the crash, which happened around 7 p.m. CST in the McClure Straight in the Northwest Territories.

The helicopter was on a routine mission to check ice conditions at the time it crashed and was travelling with the CCGS Amundsen, a coast-guard ice breaker.

Marc Thibault, the commanding officer of the CCGS Amundsen and Daniel Dubé, the pilot, also died in the crash.

Hochheim, an experienced climatologist, was 55 years old and left behind a wife and three children. He had worked at the University of Manitoba’s Centre for Earth Observation Science for the past 12 years, focusing on sea ice climatology and remote sensing in extreme conditions.

Very sad.

Ethanol Falsehood Examined

Learning is easy. Getting it right is harder. Expunging falsehoods is hardest, but most rewarding.

There is a “meme” (using the definition of a meme as something most people in a certain community think whether it is true or not) that to produce one gallon of Ethanol for fuel you have to use some larger number (I’ve heard two, and I’ve heard five) gallons of gasoline.

In an ideal world there would be farms with giant solar collectors and wind generators. These devices would produce electricity to run distilling machines and hybrid tractors and such. On the farm would be grown GMO plants designed specifically to maximize ethanol output per acre of crop, with minimal energy input, and producing as a byproduct a carbon-trapping substance that could be spread on the fields where the GMO crop was grown, though a portion of it might be eaten by the workers on the farm some of whom might be cyborgs. Ethanol produced on this farm would thus be entirely solar, in a sense. Some of the ethanol would be used to run the farm, but there would always be a surplus. The surplus would be shipped in tanker trucks … hybrid tanker trucks charged from the farm’s solar and wind generators and using biofuels produced on the farm … to nearby distribution centers so people could fill up their flex-fuel hybrids. Oh, and the fields are covered with glass (or, better, invisible aluminum, like the clear material covering your smart phone or tablet), so water is recycled within the farm rather than lost as vapor to the atmosphere, and the growing season would be lengthened. The farm would be like a giant alga-endocrine cell chimera, with most of the energy trapping and using processes involved in the cell’s life cycle, but a reliable and abundant secretion of liquid humans can burn. There would probably be some biodiesel production as a sideline.

In that case, there would be zero “gasoline” (or whatever) used in the process of turing sunlight into human transport.

But even without that ideal cell-farm, the “meme” is wrong. It is wrong for two reasons.

First, as is the case with so much thoughtless critique of “alternative” energy forms, the comparison is unfair. If it takes X gallons of fuel (such as gasoline) to produce one gallon of ethanol, how many gallons of fuel does it take to produce one gallon of gasoline? In other words, the meme seems to assume that ethanol production is an energy-consuming process while gasoline appears spontaneously, with no energy input at all, at the point where you buy it and pump it into your car. This, of course, is not how it happens.

Anyway, all along I’ve wondered if someone should do a study that looks at the energy inputs and outputs of corn-based ethanol production, and it turns out a friend of mine did exactly this study a few years ago and never even mentioned it to me! (Well, I never asked him either, to be fair). And today, he, John Abraham, put up a blog post about this at The Guardian.

This is the blog post: Global warming, ethanol, and will-o-wisp solutions. Go and read this to find out how many gallons of gasoline it takes to produce a gallon of ethanol! (And other important things.) The abstract of the peer reviewed study done by John and his student, Fushcia-Ann Hoover is here.