The Ergosphere
Sunday, July 31, 2005
 

Triage

Battlefield and other emergency medics are sometimes confronted with more casualties than they can treat.  Survival of the greatest number is their goal.  What they have learned to do is to divide their patients into three groups: The concept of triage is useful beyond the medical context; in particular, it can be usefully applied to government policy-making.  Energy technologies can be divided into similar groups:
  1. Technologies which will succeed with little or no assistance.  These are best left alone.
  2. Technologies which are either failures or cannot succeed without permanent subsidies.  These should be dropped.
  3. Technologies which are
    1. long-term or speculative or
    2. ready for prime time but need to build manufacturing volume to get their costs down.
    The former should receive research; incentives and subsidies can push the latter over the hump.
Examples of technologies in each of these categories:
  1. No assistance or mild regulatory relief:  petroleum, coal, conventional natural gas, coal-bed methane, off-grid solar PV, nuclear.
  2. Will never work without subsidies:  fuel ethanol from grain, biodiesel from virgin oils.
    1. Speculative or long-term:  fusion, hydrogen, OTEC, central solar PV, solar chimneys.
    2. Almost ready for prime time, but can use a push:  wind power, distributed peaking solar PV, plug-in hybrid vehicles.
The energy bill which just headed for the President's desk makes serious mistakes in all of the above categories.  For instance: I have seen no reports on the amount of money for photovoltaic R&D, biological photosynthetic hydrogen, battery technology, zinc-air battery demonstration projects, artificial photosynthesis, or any of the other possibilities out there; I suspect that they have made no news because they are trivial or even zero.  Some of these are almost ready for production, some demand research money because of their potential, all have attracted next to no attention.  We're not going to feel the pain from these omissions for a while any more than CARB's refusal to pump GO-HEV's in 1990 was felt before the turn of the century, but feel it we will.

In medical terms, this energy bill throws expert trauma teams at patients in the best of health and cadavers already cold while patients with great prospects for recovery but also great need are left bleeding in the halls.  It's especially ironic that the US Senate is currently headed by a surgeon. 
Comments:
Net energy is a near meaningless concept. The way it gets applied to ethanol, you can claim that the net energy yield of a coal plant is minus 70% (ie per kWh of electricity output, about 3 kWh of coal, natural gas, petroleum ... and electricity are required as inputs).

Virtually all of the inputs to ethanol production are not in the form of liquid transportation fuels, most is low grade process heat.

Petroleum imports do get substituted pretty much 1 to 1 by ethanol (ie use of 1 kWh worth of ethanol displaces about 1 kWh of imported crude oil), and while much of the process heat comes from natural gas, it could come from waste feedstocks instead.

I get angry when I see you claim that wind is close to not needing subsidies, while ethanol from corn will always need them.

Fact is that with current oil prices ethanol from corn is already just about competitive on price, while in my home country of Germany, wind is subsidised so highly that it gets four times the price of conventional electricity and still only makes up about 5% of the electricity mix.

Disclaimer: I work in the bioenergy field (though not on ethanol, my speciality is fast pyrolysis).
 
"I get angry when I see you claim that wind is close to not needing subsidies, while ethanol from corn will always need them."

So don't whine about it.  If it's wrong, refute it; if it's right, get used to it.

"Virtually all of the inputs to ethanol production are not in the form of liquid transportation fuels, most is low grade process heat."

This is not true.  At 1.34:1, the inputs amount to about 75% of the output.  According to the Chippewa Valley operation, process heat only amounts to 44% of the output; the 31% difference is motor fuel, agrichemicals and fertilizer.

It may indeed be possible to distill fuel ethanol with heat from burning waste, but this begs the question:  what use would that waste have served instead?  The only heat sources which do not merely displace fuel use are solar and powerplant waste heat.

"Net energy is a near meaningless concept. The way it gets applied to ethanol, you can claim that the net energy yield of a coal plant is minus 70% (ie per kWh of electricity output, about 3 kWh of coal, natural gas, petroleum ... and electricity are required as inputs)."

I'd like to see your accounting for that claim.  If it was even remotely true, it would take a large fraction of a BTU of electricity and petroleum to get 1 BTU of coal from the earth to the powerplant.  In that case, it would not pay to use coal; yet it does, and has since the time that railroads were coal-fired instead of oil-fired.

"in my home country of Germany, wind is subsidised so highly that it gets four times the price of conventional electricity and still only makes up about 5% of the electricity mix."

You must be much more upset about the subsidies for solar PV.

Germany may be giving grossly excessive profits to wind operators (or promoting wind development in unfavorable areas) the same way tha the US is to oil producers.  This is not the fault of wind; in the USA the unsubsidized price of wind power has fallen from 20 cents per kWh to near-parity, and a relatively small tax credit (about 10% of the retail cost in California) makes it competitive with conventional sources.  As wind turbines get bigger and more efficient, they produce more energy per dollar invested; the cost curve will shortly fall below that of electricity from fossil fuels.  Indeed, if generators had to pay for their emissions of sulfur, nitrogen oxides, mercury and carbon, wind would probably be cheaper already.
 
I think it is worth noting the wind power has only recently become affordable. As a result, while it is cheap enough to consider buying instead of fossile fuel plants, its not cheap enough to justify replacing old fossile fuel plants before their time is up.

I do a think the biomass does have the potential to be useful as an energy source, but I don't see why biofuels have to be made out of something we can eat, and not some cheaper crop like algae.
 
*promoting wind development in unfavorable areas*

Wind in Germany is indeed much less efficient than in the US. Apparently their government believes that the costs of pollution, insecurity of supply, etc, are worth it.
 
random_poster:  Ceteris paribus you would be correct... but other things will not remain the same.  For instance, much of California's electric capacity is gas-fired and natural gas prices are rising steeply.  It makes a great deal of sense to add wind capacity (or replace old, small, maintenance-intensive units) to allow those plants to be run less and burn less fuel.

Michigan has about 100 linear miles of class 5 territory in Lake Michigan starting a bit north of Gary, and a much larger area of class 4 territory.  I suspect that Michigan's entire electrical energy requirements could be satisfied by tapping this prime wind resource; the state's average demand in 2002 was only about 12.3 GW.  If the invested energy was repaid in the 5 months estimated for other sea-based wind projects, Michigan could substitute wind for a great deal of natural gas and coal.

This would clearly be way up there on the "pay attention now" triage chart. 
Now, to convince Detroit that they need to make vehicles that can use domestic electricity instead of foreign oil....
 
The output of a coal fired power plant is electricity. For every kWh of electricity produced, typically about 3 kWh of coal are required.

That's about a two thirds loss and people do it, because electricity is a higher quality form of energy than coal.

Yet, a great fraction of electricity is used to generate heat (for tumble driers, cookers, water heaters etc...) which could also be produced directly from coal.

For example, my grandmother's flat is supplied with hot water and district heat by a coal fired co-generation plant. Compared to storage heating and electric hot water heating (my own flat) that makes a rather big difference in CO2 emissions to supply heat and electricity.

But, the difference between the two is commonly referred to as improved efficiency, rather than better net energy, with the size of the conversion loss the issue.

So what about electricity used to power the plant's pumps? Is that parasitic electricity consumption lowering efficiency, or should it be counted in the net energy of coal, just as the electricity used to drive the mining machinery would usually be counted?

http://www.usda.gov/oce/oepnu/net%20energy%20balance.doc

So, conversion losses get seen in a rather different light than net energy.

And, you can regard ethanol production as the conversion of domestic natural gas and coal into a value added liquid fuel product at exceedingly high efficiency (>100%), rock bottom cost per gallon of imported liquid transportation fuel displaced and with some net reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.

Furthermore, you can also argue that we don't have to use natural gas and coal, but could substitute other inputs, such as woody biomass or wind generated electricity. That would be at higher financial cost, but would drive net carbon dioxide emissions down even further.

When you look at the study above, you'll notice that 6.85 gallons of diesel and 3.4 gallons of gasoline are used per acre. The yield last year per acre was 160 bushels or thereabouts, which gives about 425 gallons of ethanol.

Some LPG is used for crop drying. It doesn't have to be, biomass could equally supply the low grade heat, and while LPG can be used as a vehicle fuel, the vast majority of it is not in the United States at present.

The corn and ethanol need to be transported, but so does imported oil and gasoline, and the amounts involved are very modest (lower than on-farm usage of liquid fuels).

Bottom line is that each kWh of ethanol blended in gasoline does reduce gasoline imports by about 1 kWh.

On wind, the high price is necessary to ensure fast expansion in spite of Germany being a small country with less than optimal wind resources.

But even in the US, the 1.5 cent tax credit is not enough to ensure a large market share. Ethanol has a greater share of the gasoline market than wind has of the electricity market.

http://www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/servicerpt/rps2/analysis.html

And even with the 1.5 cent tax credit continued until 2030, EIA still project a market share of only about 2.5% in 2025. Without the tax credit, they see wind's share at about 0.5% in 2025.

Beside, 1.5 cent is a much larger share of wholesale price than of retail prices. The effective subsidy in Germany is about 9 cents and the wholesale price about 3 cents, but I believe retail prices are more typically around 15 cents (some of these numbers for Germany may be slightly out of date).

A few more comments:

Ethanol technology and price are also continuously improving, this isn't the sole preserve of wind energy. Yet, you put it into the "will never work" category? (How about improving yields? The potential to use molar sieves to slash distillation energy requirments by a factor 40? Making other steps more efficient, using co-generation, waste biomass inputs, better farm machinery etc...)

Why only talk about wind subsidies as a share of retail prices?

EIA project something like less than a cent per gallon of retail gasoline to meet the 7.5 billion gallon (ie 4% share or so) biofuel requirement of the energy bill (or thereabouts, I think the figure may actually have been for 8 billion, I'd have to check that). Doesn't that sound pretty cheap?
 
" The output of a coal fired power plant is electricity. For every kWh of electricity produced, typically about 3 kWh of coal are required."

You're obfuscating the issue twice over.

1.  You're making the wrong comparison; it is not how much you get out of a pound of coal, but how much coal or equivalent you need to produce that pound.  (I'll bet that it isn't much.)  The EROEI of petroleum these days is about 10:1, Athabasca tar sands is 4:1, and per your own source ethanol is a pathetic 1.67:1.

2.  Coal can be converted to electricity at about 33% efficiency in a steam-cycle plant, 40% in an IGCC plant.  The typical vehicle converts motor fuel (including ethanol) to work at an efficiency below 20%.

"you can regard ethanol production as the conversion of domestic natural gas and coal into a value added liquid fuel product at exceedingly high efficiency (>100%), rock bottom cost per gallon of imported liquid transportation fuel displaced and with some net reduction in carbon dioxide emissions."

Maybe I can, but should I?  Let's look at that "rock-bottom cost".  The subsidy applied to ethanol in the USA is about 52 cents/gallon; at 1.67:1 EROEI the actual cost per unit of energy generated is $1.30/gallon of ethanol, or about $2.17/gallon of gasoline equivalent (assuming ethanol is .6 the fuel value of gasoline).  That's about $91/barrel equivalent... and that's just the subsidy cost, not full retail!  If that's "rock bottom" to you, I've got some oceanfront property in Botswana that I'll let you have cheap.

"Furthermore, you can also argue that we don't have to use natural gas and coal, but could substitute other inputs, such as woody biomass or wind generated electricity. That would be at higher financial cost, but would drive net carbon dioxide emissions down even further."

We can use wind energy much more directly.  At 15 cents/kWh (what would that be, .13 euro?) a car using 150 Wh/km would cost 1.95 euro/100 km for elecricity.  Compared to gasoline at 1.5 Euro/l and 6 l/100 km, you'd still save more than two thirds.

"And even with the 1.5 cent tax credit continued until 2030, EIA still project a market share of only about 2.5% in 2025. Without the tax credit, they see wind's share at about 0.5% in 2025."

Did you read the assumptions in that report?  I quote:  "Increased generation from natural gas and coal are expected to be especially important; for example, between 2001 and 2025 the generation from natural gas is projected to increase from 618 billion kilowatt-hours to 1,637 billion kilowatt-hours."  Natural gas production in N. America has peaked, and gas prices upwards of $10/million BTU mean that even the 50%-efficient combined-cycle powerplants have fuel costs of 6.8 cents/kWh and up.  Wind is about 2/3 the cost of gas-fired combined cycle per the EIA (see table 14), and the difference is greater than the 1.8 cent/kWh production tax credit.  This difference will only get larger as gas prices rise.

"Ethanol technology and price are also continuously improving, this isn't the sole preserve of wind energy. Yet, you put it into the "will never work" category?"

Yes.  Let's assume that molar sieves reduce distillation energy to zero, we get free planting, cultivation and fertilizer from pixies, and we turn the ENTIRE US MAIZE CROP into fuel:

Ethanol yield from 11.8 billion bu @ 2.66 gallons/bu:  31.4 billion gallons ethanol.
US motor gasoline consumption in 2003:  134 billion gallons.

If you assume 1.67:1 EROEI you net about 12.5 billion gallons (the other 18.8 billion gallons is passed through from other fossil supplies).  As those other supplies are squeezed by decreasing production, the ethanol supply will decrease and prices will rise with them.  This is not going to work.  It is blatantly obvious that ethanol from corn cannot even compensate for a 20% cut in US oil imports, and the money spent on it is as energy security largely wasted.

"Why only talk about wind subsidies as a share of retail prices?"

I don't understand what you're trying to say here.

"EIA project something like less than a cent per gallon of retail gasoline to meet the 7.5 billion gallon (ie 4% share or so) biofuel requirement of the energy bill...."

There is a 5.2 cent/gallon tax subsidy for motor fuel containing 10% ethanol, plus other subsidies for the raw materials.  40% use of 10% gasohol would meet the 4% target and have an average cost of over 2 cents/gallon (more than 50 cents/gallon for the ethanol itself).  Less than a cent per gallon?  Do you think I'm a fool?
 
Look again at my first comment "Net energy is a near meaningless concept."

Let me give another example: Suppose we have 1 barrel of heavy crude oil (produced with near zero energy input) and put it into a reactor and get 0.9 barrels of light, sweet crude out. The net energy of this process is near infinity.

Suppose we take the same barrel of heavy crude oil and burn it in a boiler to raise steam for enhanced oil extraction. We could also take most of the carbon dioxide produced from combusting the heavy oil and inject it for enhanced oil extraction as well. And in total we might get 0.9 barrels of light crude oil.

You might call the enhanced oil recovery a net energy sink.

Yet, we could be producing the same amount of light crude oil at at the same cost with the same net carbon dioxide emissions.

I ask you what's "pathetic" about a net energy ratio of 1.67?

My opinion is that it tells you very little on its own.

Much more relevant are:

1. The monetary cost of the fuel produced.

2. The net emissions.

3. Whether the process is "sustainable".

Currently, ethanol production costs are lower than wholesale gasoline prices and net emissions of carbon dioxide of ethanol are lower than for gasoline. And it's quite possible to subsitute the coal and nat gas inputs into ethanol production.

You mention the efficiency of converting coal to electricity and compare that with the efficiency of converting ethanol to motive energy in a car. First an facetious aside. As long as it's cold winter, the efficiency of a car engine goes sky high, because ... we've suddenly got a use for the waste heat, ie it's no longer waste heat, it's a useful output, our car engine is co-generating motive energy and heat to keep the car's occupants warm and the combined efficiency may then exceed 50% ;-)

More relevantly, I think you are looking at a meaningless comparison of efficiencies there. You might as well be comparing with the efficiency of plants converting sunshine to biomass (0.1% or less often times).

A much more meaningful comparison is between the net efficiency of converting coal to a high octane liquid transportation fuel via gasification and Fischer Tropsch and the efficiency of going via ethanol.

You'll find that the net carbon dioxide emissions of coal derived liquids are easily triple those of gasoline, and quadruple or quintuple those of corn derived ethanol. You'll also find that something like 2 kWh of coal will be required to replace a gallon of gasoline instead of say 0.6 in the case of going via ethanol.

I don't buy your calculation for the cost of ethanol. The EIA analysis can be found here:
http://www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/servicerpt/jeffords/index.html

Note that they point out that currently ethanol production costs (even ex tax break) are below gasoline wholesale prices. So currently the cost of substituting imported petroleum with ethanol is actually negative.

Yet you come up with a true extra cost in excess of $2 per gallon.

I know where you are coming from with your calculation. You consider the cost to the taxpayer (though this is offset by the fact that taxpayers in aggregate benefit from lower gasoline prices as a result of the lower taxes on ethanol - for the economy as a whole it's only an extra cost if the cost of domestically produced ethanol is above that of imported gasoline, which it isn't at the moment).

But you just can't use the net energy ratio the way you do in your calculation. It's not energy that is being substituted with ethanol (/the coal and nat gas going into the ethanol), it's imported gasoline. Your use of the net energy ratio would only be valid, if indeed we were looking at the cost (to the taxpayer) per unit of fossil energy production avoided. But in the case of imported gasoline, we are perfectly happy to replace that with domestically produced coal.

It is true, though that the cost of CO2 emissions reductions using ethanol appears quite high. But that is because the process is not optimised for minimal CO2 avoidance cost, but for minimal liquid fuel production cost.

The tax break is about a third of the wholesale price in the case of ethanol. With current wholesale electricity prices 1.5 cents per kWh is I believe also around a third.

I know that you could use wind to power car batteries. But you know that batteries are expensive.

I was considering buying a electric car last summer. I was happy to accept a maximum speed of 40 miles per hour and a range of 40 miles. I loved the car after the test drive. What I didn't love was the service contract for the batteries goingreen insisted on.

You should know as well as I do that the main cost of using electricity in transportation lies in the infrastructure, not in the per kWh cost of the electricity.

The true cost per kWh of liquid transportation fuel displaced is therefore much, much higher.

You mention the EIA projections for natural gas. Those may be optimistic. Natural gas may indeed cost more than they assume (price forecasts are notoriously difficult, and that's where the EIA has consistently done worst, though there is no obvious bias either way, they tend to be too high for a few years and then too low for a few years in their projections).

I'd say two things here. Firstly, their projections for ethanol assume lower prices as well. Natural gas prices above $10 are hard to square with lower oil prices, so if you insist on assuming higher oil/nat gas prices than the EIA does, you'll find that the cost of ethanol will stay below wholesale gasoline prices.

Secondly, costs for wind energy are very site dependent. You'll therefore find that if NEMS is rerun with higher nat gas prices wind will get a higher share, but it won't get anything near 50%, let alone 100%, which is what you seem to think is a requirement for ethanol to make sense.

I've also got another consideration here, namely the fact that the wind doesn't blow all the time. There is therefore a cost in network infrastructure and back-up (which goes up as wind becomes a more significant contribution to electricity supply).

One way to express this is to consider the value of wind energy on the open market.

On the German electricity market, wind might get something like 1 cent per kWh with a wholesale price of 3 cent per kWh and a 10 cent in-feed tariff.

Or in other words, utilities are forced to pay 10 times what they'd be willing to pay otherwise.
(Another, more flattering way to include the network and backup related costs is to add them to the in-feed tariff, then the total subsidy is 9 cents, and the total cost 12 cents, or just four times the wholesale price)

You mention that using all of last year's crop would only subsitute for a quarter of US gasoline consumption (and that assumes similar mpg for ethanol as for gasoline), and that some of that energy used for substituting gasoline actually comes from other fossil fuels. So?

Coal is in plentiful supply. It doesn't have to diminish anytime soon, and it can be substituted, for example by woody biomass, or by greater efficiency (eg molar sieves instead of distillation).

All the corn crop could be used without Americans having to starve. And the present corn crop is not the all time limit. Both acreage and yield could be increased further.

Furthermore:

1. Ethanol yields could be raised, for example by fermenting some of the cellulosic constituents of corn.

2. Ethanol can be produced from cellulosic feedstocks other than corn.

3. The efficiency of the transport fleet could be raised lowering the demand for liquid transportation fuels.

Sorry, for me it is blatantly obvious that ethanol can substitute for a 20% cut in oil imports (though other options would be pursued simultaneously, including higher efficiency and other fuel switching opportunities, rather than letting ethanol carry all the burden).

Finally, let me expand a bit on my "most is low grade process heat" comment. The majority (ie greater than 50%) is low grade heat used in the fermentation and distillation of the ethanol, but even among the other inputs process heat figures prominently (eg for drying the corn with LPG or nat gas, for distilling the input gasoline and diesel or in the production of fertilizer and agri-chemicals). Some of that process heat isn't particularly low temperature, and I was a bit liberal here with the word "most".
 
Yes, wind has a high initial capital cost. Could be compared to nuclear in that regard. Thus, the subsidies.

However, down the line, those turbines are going to spin almost for free.

In that sense, comparing it to ethanol might be a clumsy comparison.

I think 20% of fuel replaced by biomass is unlikely in Europe and impossible in the U.S. You can wave your hands with "higher yields" etc, and meanwhile across the world crop yields have been declining due to persistant drought, etc.

We're headed for a crunch. Heiko, I watch the energy news pretty closely. Pegging consumption at today's rate, if over the next five years Europe can replace an upcoming 10% shortfall in liquid fuels with Ethanol,

I'll eat my hat. Betcha a bushel of corn it won't happen.
 
Let me expand on why wind would get so little in a free market in Germany.

Wind capacity is something like 16 GW now, average demand around 53 GW (ranging from the mid 30's in a mild summer night to the 70's on an extremely cold winter day).

When the wind does blow 16 GW depresses the price, in the middle of the night to zero, but even on an average day to very little. Demand in the 70+ GW range is virtually always accompanied by next to zero wind.

Because wind is so variable, the bulk of the production occurs when the wind blows strong and prices get depressed, while when prices are strong, there is usually little wind power.

Consequence, in a free market wind would get less, much less in fact, than baseload power stations like nuclear do.

In the US this isn't much of an issue yet, because wind is such a small proportion of the total.

In Germany, while average output is in the 5-6% of demand range, half of the time it is less than 2%, and in the middle of the night with heavy wind it may get into the 40-50% range.

Another point worthwhile mentioning is that wind does better price wise when the competition is natural gas, because most of the cost of nat gas generated electricity is variable. So, it's easy to displace nat gas when the wind blows without too much of a price penalty.

When, however, as in Germany at the moment, the vast bulk of production is from coal and nuclear, wind needs to take an enormous price hit. Against nuclear, in the middle of the night, that means the price gets bid down to zero.
 
http://www.fightingterror.org/newsroom/050610.cfm

You forget cellulosic ethanol:
"Old or misstated data are sometimes cited for the proposition that huge amounts of land would have to be introduced into cultivation or taken away from food production in order to have such biomass available for cellulosic ethanol production. This is incorrect. The National Commission on Energy Policy reported in December that, if fleet mileage in the U.S. rises to 40 mpg -- somewhat below the current European Union fleet average for new vehicles of 42 mpg and well below the current Japanese average of 47 mpg — then as switchgrass yields improve modestly to around 10 tons/acre it would take only 30 million acres of land to produce sufficient cellulosic ethanol to fuel half the U.S. passenger fleet. (ETES pp. 76-77). By way of calibration, this would essentially eliminate the need for oil imports for passenger vehicle fuel and would require only the amount of land now in the soil bank (the Conservation Reserve Program ("CRP") on which such soil-restoring crops as switchgrass are already being grown. Practically speaking, one would probably use for ethanol production only a little over half of the soil bank lands and add to this some portion of the plants now grown as animal feed crops (for example, on the 70 million acres that now grow soybeans for animal feed). In short, the U.S .and many other countries should easily find sufficient land available for enough energy crop cultivation to make a substantial dent in oil use. (Id.)"

And, the IEA points out that the world could replace 10% of transportation fuels at next to no added cost with ethanol from sugar cane over the next two decades (and this is based on exceedingly conservative oil price estimates).
 
Heiko,

You posted: *Wind capacity is something like 16 GW now, average demand around 53 GW (ranging from the mid 30's in a mild summer night to the 70's on an extremely cold winter day).*

German electrical demand peaks on cold winter days?? wow. So German electrical demand is primarily for heating?!?!? Why doesn't it peak at night?
 
Nobody is forgetting about cellulosic ethanol. I'd like to see more.

http://www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/analysispaper/biomass.html
"The production of ethanol from corn is a mature technology that is not likely to see significant reductions in production costs."

I'd like to see some working plants, not just studies.

And I'd really like to see that "forest residues" don't mean "forests" down the line.
 
This debate over switchgrass and other cellulosic ethanol feedstocks seem to me to be wildly optimistic. James Woolsey and Amory Lovins in particular, have been boosters for switchgrass. Woolsey even claims that switchgrass will produce 7 bbls of oil equivalent for each bbl of oil used to grow the crop and produce the ethanol.
Like the other posters here, I'll wait and see. From a pure thermodynamics standpoint, I can't see how those yields are achievable.
Allow me to add one thought to the ethanol as motor fuel debate.
Rather than focus on the energy yield question we should be talking about complexity in the motor fuel supply chain. This aspect of the debate is being overlooked and yet it's incredibly important. Last year, refiners produced 45 different types of gasoline. Now, thanks to the new energy bill, we're going to add more complexity. And we're adding complexity at the same time that the EPA mandates for low sulphur gasoline and low sulphur diesel are hitting refiners.
The ethanol boosters don't like to talk about this issue. But the fact is that the motor fuel supply chain is already stressed. There are not enough pipelines, tanks and storage facilities to handle the multi fuels we're producing right now.
Next year, thanks to EPA mandates, we will add ultra low sulphur diesel and gasoline to the mix. Now, if you are a midstream company like Kinder Morgan (ticker is KMI) you're going to make a lot of money. But consumers are going to be paying the bill for all this complexity.
In short, ethanol is not the silver bullet. In fact, it may not a bullet at all.
 
Wow, a whole ton of stuff to rebut.

First, I have already rebutted Heiko's claim here over in this thread.  You may note the weasel-words "if fleet mileage in the U.S. rises to 40 mpg", "as switchgrass yields improve modestly", and "sufficient cellulosic ethanol to fuel half the U.S. passenger fleet.".  Again, follow that discussion here.

"I don't buy your calculation for the cost of ethanol. The EIA analysis can be found here:
http://www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/servicerpt/jeffords/index.html

Note that they point out that currently ethanol production costs (even ex tax break) are below gasoline wholesale prices. So currently the cost of substituting imported petroleum with ethanol is actually negative.
"

Funny, the Jeffords report says exactly the opposite of what you're saying.  I quote from your link (quotes from the report in bold):

"In the Base case, corn ethanol with the Federal tax credit of 51 cents per gallon of ethanol is cost-competitive to gasoline in the first few years."

In other words, without the subsidy a 10% ethanol mix would cost roughly 5.1 cents/gallon more than straight gasoline at first, and even with it gasohol will cost more as the value of the credit declines with inflation.

"... there is also a small decline in total gasoline energy demand in the S. 606 case due to slightly higher gasoline prices."

In other words, the ethanol mandate increases prices which decreases demand.  (Where's Obviousman when you need him?)

"Table 2. Impact on Gasoline Price Compared to Base Case,
2012, 2025, and 2006-2025 Average
All Gasoline,
Without Energy Content Adjustment
S. 606 0.9 0.5 0.9
S. 650 0.1 0.9 0.8
"

In short:  pump prices go up, and price per unit energy goes up even more.  (How does this provide consumer relief from higher prices?)

Net cost of this is the sum of the tax subsidies and higher consumer prices.  At a projected annual ethanol consumption of 6.0 billion gallons, 51 cents/gallon and ignoring the extra credits for cellulosic ethanol, tax subsidies would cost $3.06 billion per year.  An additional 0.8 cents/gallon in pump price times 134 billion gallons per year is roughly another $1.07 billion per year, totalling $4.13 billion per year.  Net reduction in imports is as little as 100,000 bbl/day to as much as 130,000 bbl/day, or 36 to 47 million barrels per year; the cost of each imported barrel eliminated (not including other farm subsidies) is $87 to as much as $113 per barrel.

I dare say that oil prices in that range will do a much more effective job of of reducing imports (by destroying demand) all by themselves than any possible substitution by ethanol!

That's enough from the Jeffords report; back to Heiko.

"Yet you come up with a true extra cost in excess of $2 per gallon."

That's the direct ethanol tax subsidy per unit energy created at the 1.34:1 EROEI; at 1.67, the tax subsidy falls to $1.27 per gallon-equivalent created.

As a brief exercise, I compared the energy invested in the distillation step (~33400 BTU/gallon according to one source) with the energy required to provide the same motive energy via a GO-HEV charged with the output of a gas-fired cogenerator.  Assume that a Prius running on ethanol would get 37.5 MPG due to its lesser energy content, and that the cogenerator's marginal efficiency (fuel required to produce the electrical output over and above the need for the heat) is 90%.

33400 BTU of natural gas is 9.78 kWh; the additional gas fed to the cogenerator would produce 8.80 kWh.  The measured energy efficiency of the Prius+ GO-HEV is 262 Wh/mile, so the 8.80 kWh of electricity would drive the car for 33.6 miles.

All the other inputs - the grain, the fuel and chemicals to produce it, the farm subsidies - yield just 3.9 miles of travel above that from the gas used in distillation.

It's obvious that it's a mistake to put the farm into this loop.  It doesn't belong there.

"I know where you are coming from with your calculation. You consider the cost to the taxpayer...."

You protest that I consider the problem on a tax-neutral basis.  Yes, I do; if ethanol did not receive preferences, then the general gasoline tax could be reduced for the same tax revenue.  If you could change the real return on investment with tax policy, then we could make ourselves fabulously wealthy by the simple means of subsidizing everything.  Europe is the proof that this does not work; the result is quite the opposite.  TANSTAAFL!

"It's not energy that is being substituted with ethanol (/the coal and nat gas going into the ethanol), it's imported gasoline."

As I showed above, you can substitute much more easily through electric propulsion than through ethanol.  Electric propulsion is also far more efficient on a per-area basis:  ethanol production from maize at 200 bu/ac, 2.66 gal/bu and 30 miles/gallon (ethanol) yields 15960 mi/ac/yr, while the same area (4047 m^2) receiving 1000 kWh/m^2/yr sunlight and covered in PV panels at 12.3% efficiency yields 497.8 MWH/ac/yr; using this electricity in vehicles consuming 350 WH/mile (about 40% higher than Prius+) would yield 1,422,000 mi/ac/yr - almost 100 times as much.

"I was considering buying a electric car last summer.... What I didn't love was the service contract for the batteries goingreen insisted on."

You blame a vehicle technology for the policies of a vendor?  Are they inherent?  Come to think of it, you did the same thing with regard to government policy and wind power.

"You should know as well as I do that the main cost of using electricity in transportation lies in the infrastructure, not in the per kWh cost of the electricity."

What infrastructure?  The grid is paid for, cogeneration is cheap both in terms of fuel required and equipment needed, and the difference in vehicle cost is a few thousand dollars.  Vehicles which charge at off-peak times require no change in grid capacity, and utilities would be happy to amortize their fixed grid costs over greater energy sales.

I did a short calculation yesterday.  I took a BTS table of vehicle miles travelled and guesstimated the energy consumption if the personal 4-wheel vehicle travel was all electric:

1660828 million miles of passenger car travel in 2003.
998004 million miles of 4-wheel, 2-axle light truck travel in 2003.

Assuming 350 Wh/mile for the cars and 600 Wh/mile for the light trucks, this comes out to an annual energy requirement of 1180 TWH or 134.7 GW average.  Average US electric consumption is about 440 GW, total nameplate generation capacity is over 950 GW; the US grid could handle this amount of energy with ease if you moved it between 7 PM and 7 AM.

Where's this infrastructure investment going to have to go?  I don't see it.

"... the wind doesn't blow all the time."

So?  There are many ways to finesse this problem; for instance, surplus wind electricity can be used to make ice, and the ice can be used for for air conditioning when the wind is calm.  This would free up electricity for more immediate needs, like charging electric vehicles.  In this way, wind could meet much of the A/C load and also reduce the need for gas-fired peaking generation.

You can do similar things with other loads.  You can heat water or brick when winds are high, then use the heat later.  Masonry-storage furnaces are big in Europe, no?

"There is therefore a cost in network infrastructure and back-up...."

The network infrastructure already exists to meet afternoon peak loads, and the back-up capacity (peaking generators) also exists to meet it.  Wind power can use the same network capacity and will reduce the fuel consumed by the peaking generators.

"Sorry, for me it is blatantly obvious that ethanol can substitute for a 20% cut in oil imports...."

Please pardon me if I think that a 20% target is much too small.  I believe that a change of emphasis could not only yield much greater returns per dollar, they could completely replace petroleum for transport fuel and replace other fossil-fuel consumption as well.  Settling for such trivial improvements just to support agribusiness is idiotic.
 
3.2kw:  Ethanol is a bullet, all right.  It's a bullet aimed at our own foot.
 
The use of ethanol doesn't preclude other options.

You can combine it with plug-in hybrids say.

I know that electricity is, in principle, an efficient way to power transportation, the problem as you know is the costs of the batteries, the limited range on batteries, and for trains, the cost of the overhead lines (electrification of railways doesn't come cheap).

In plug-in hybrids we need both a gasoline engine and electric motor, and batteries.

Currently, the cost of these systems runs quite high and for typical driving, it means that the cost of each displaced gallon of gasoline is in the $5-$10 range, so that even in Europe or Japan hybrids (let alone plug-in hybdris) don't really save any money.

Interestingly, the majority of hybrids have been sold in the US, not Europe. In Europe high mileage gets achieved through smaller cars, dieselisation and smaller technological improvements.

The point of this is, you just cannot ignore the costs of the batteries and other system costs (such as having a gasoline engine on top of an electric motor), and reduce it to just the cost of the electricity.

It's the whole package you need to consider.

I didn't go for the g-whiz in the end, because they wanted to send an engineer up to Birmingham (UK) from London on £45 per hour, plus travel costs, to service the g-whiz every half year (or I think every 4000 miles).

I know that this is to some degree goingreen's fault, but, you've got to ask yourself why they can only sell 200 cars in London with all the perks available there (free parking, exemption from the congestion charge, and only £350 of servicing charge per year), and the answer is it's a tiny car with 40 mile claimed range (where in practise you wouldn't want to go more than 30 to be on the safe side) and 40 miles per hours maximum speed (not uphill though) and apart from enthusiasts like myself, people just don't want to spend £7000 on that.

The Prius costs £17,500 here in the UK, over three times the Kelisa (a Nissan micra clone) which gets just about the same mileage, or £7000 more than say a Ford Focus.

Who wants to buy that? You either have the same mileage and pay bucket loads more for more room, or you've got a similar sized car, save maybe 2 litres/100 km (or 300 litres, or about £250 per year at $6 per gallon and for an average 15,000 km worth of driving) and pay so much more it'll take you 30 years, even at UK petrol prices, to make up the difference.

US prices for the Prius are so good compared to UK prices, and considering what some of the components are likely to cost, I bet that Toyota isn't making much if any money on them over there.

Bottom line is, it's not just a few thousand Dollars, as far as I can see.

On the EIA forecast, they think oil prices (and refinery margins for producing gasoline) will come down. At present, the cost of producing ethanol is slightly less than gasoline, even when not taking the tax break into account and when adjusting for the lower mileage you get with ethanol.

I know that the less than 1 cent per gallon gasoline price impact EIA come up with assumes a continuation of the tax break and that this has a revenue impact for the government.

As far as I am concerned, there is a real cost, if and only if, the production cost of ethanol exceeds that of gasoline.

Differential taxation does not have to mean a subsidy. Diesel is taxed something like 30 cents per litre or over a Dollar per gallon less than petrol in Germany (ie petrol is taxed at something like $4.50 a gallon and diesel at something like $3.50 a gallon). That does give an incentive to shift to Diesel, but doesn't mean, in my humble opinion, that subbing Diesel for gasoline "costs" a Dollar per gallon.

You give some alternative pathways to subbing gasoline, for example we could use PV to generate electricity or nat gas to generate electricity.

Yes, indeed, we could, and with PV we'd get much more energy per unit of land.

But, the costs would be massively higher, because we don't have batteries up to the job, and combining batteries and electrified railways has a large convenience cost (ie people don't buy into that option), or requires advanced technology (to make sure the electric vehicle can be charged on-board, that there are limited delays) and plenty of investment (otherwise people still won't buy into it, as they know that there are plenty of places they can't go with their electric car + an electric train), or batteries and petrol engines in plug-in hybrids (at huge expense).

And if do go the plug-in hybrid way, we still need a liquid fuel, and have to think of the best alternatives there, and ethanol certainly does very well there when compared to coal or nat gas derived liquids (CNG is another possibility, but I gather that there are range related problems there too).

In your co-generation example, you assume an awfully high effective efficiency for electricity generation. I've got some idea how you get there, but you can apply co-generation to ethanol production, as well, maybe reducing the nat gas input for the process heat by a factor 5.

There's loads of potential to reduce CO2 emissions, and decrease fossil fuel inputs into ethanol production. This just comes at some investment cost.

On wind, there are various ways to sort out the storage issue, including long-distance electricity transmission or producing ice, as you say.

The costs of this are in the several cents per kWh range, so quite bearable in principle.
 
I think I didn't really answer your question on wind.

I think that subsidies on wind are less justified than those on ethanol. Wind generated electricity is a) low quality (because it's intermittent) and b) subs for a form of energy where there are loads of alternatives (eg nuclear, coal).

Ethanol, on the other hand, subs for gasoline and road transportation is virtually exclusively powered by petroleum.
 
Let me add one other angle: The effective subsidy for efficiency and plug-in hybrids in Europe.

Gallons saved through efficiency are not taxed in Europe, they do result in a revenue loss to the government of around $4.50 per gallon.

In fact, gallons saved through efficiency aren't taxed either in the US, which also results in a revenue loss (of around 40-50 cents per gallon).

In the UK I believe there is no tax on renewable electricity.

Yet, plug-in hybrids using renewable electricity are nowhere near competitive with gasoline priced at $6 per gallon, or in other words an effective subsidy of $150-$200 per barrel.

I think you are quite biased about ethanol.

Fact is that it currently costs about $50 per barrel to produce, while gasoline needs to be imported for more than $70 per barrel.

The way you juggle tax breaks, net energy and the EIA forecast to come up with $90 per barrel of extra cost (I presume you meant extra cost, rather than $90 total, which, while still wrong, is actually not all that bad when compared to the current cost of gasoline), boggles my mind.

Fact is also that even with plug-in hybrids, we still need a liquid fuel component,

and that if all cars are plug-in hybrids, it won't be terribly hard to meet all liquid fuel requirements with ethanol.
 
Heiko, you posted *plug-in hybrids using renewable electricity are nowhere near competitive with gasoline priced at $6 per gallon, or in other words an effective subsidy of $150-$200 per barrel.*

How did you come up with that? My calculations would suggest that a 50 MPG hybrid driving 12,000 miles per year would save 120 gallons per year or $720 per year, vs a non-hybrid at 33 MPG. At a purchase price of $3,500 higher than non-hybrid, that's a 20% return on investment, which is a great ROI. A plug-in hybrid would be even more compelling economically, especially if it charged at night. It sounds like you'd save even more in Germany, if electicity is very low priced at night.

Am I missing something?
 
Good questions, Nick.

Heiko writes:

"In plug-in hybrids we need both a gasoline engine and electric motor, and batteries.

Currently, the cost of these systems runs quite high and for typical driving, it means that the cost of each displaced gallon of gasoline is in the $5-$10 range, so that even in Europe or Japan hybrids (let alone plug-in hybdris) don't really save any money.
"

Both conventional hybrids and plug-in hybrids with lead-acid batteries pay off just fine at fuel prices of $3.00/gallon.  The cost premium for the Prius is approximately $2500; if the fuel economy of the Prius is 50 MPG vs. 30 for a conventional vehicle (difference = 1 gallon per 75 miles) you'd pay off the extra cost in 62,500 miles.  Expected life of the Prius, including the battery, is upwards of 150,000 miles.

The high price of current hybrid battery packs is due to designs which require them to be relatively small and light; if you transfer much more of the vehicle's power requirements to the electric side you can shrink the engine and expand the battery, and if you don't mind the extra weight you can save a huge amount of money by going with lead-acid.  For one example, check the Tango economic calculations at Commuter Cars.  I've done calculations of my own which you can find here.  Both calculations show that electric propulsion with PbSO4 batteries can be highly competitive so long as the batteries are not deeply discharged or otherwise abused.

"I didn't go for the g-whiz in the end, because they wanted to send an engineer up to Birmingham (UK) from London on £45 per hour, plus travel costs, to service the g-whiz every half year (or I think every 4000 miles)."

Hmmm.  Probably to add water to the batteries; this is the kind of thing that is simple and cheap to do with a dealer network or even by skilled owners, and very expensive to do otherwise.  GM had similar issues with the EV-1, and the lessees (GM never sold EV-1's to the public) were required to live in certain areas served by dealers with special equipment and expertise.

When Toyota, Ford or even Kia sells a plug-in hybrid, this is unlikely to be a problem.

Cost of the vehicle appears to depend much more on brand and nation of manufacture than technology.  For instance, a Prius lists for about $23,000 (from memory) while a Hyundai Sonata costs about $13,000 despite being bigger and having similar features.  What you're paying for is the durability of the Toyota, not the hybrid drivetrain per se.

"... plug-in hybrids using renewable electricity are nowhere near competitive with gasoline priced at $6 per gallon, or in other words an effective subsidy of $150-$200 per barrel."

I think you're making a conceptual mistake here; you are confusing things which are expensive because they are low-volume with the fundamental economics.  The £45 fee for a specialist to travel to Birmingham to perform battery checks is a symptom of this.

Suppose you have a PbSO4-based GO-HEV and you get 1100 cycles out of the batteries (3 year lifespan with daily cycling).  Off-the-shelf deep-cycle batteries cost about $60/kWh, and a car with an all-electric range of 30 miles at 250 Wh/mile would consume 7.5 kWh; restricting depth of discharge to 50% would require a 15 kWh battery costing $900.  1100 cycles * 30 miles/cycle = 33,000 miles.  Battery cost is $900, electric consumption at the wall (charging and battery losses included) would be on the order of 350 Wh/mile or 11550 kWh costing $884.40 at $0.08/kWh (off-peak, it would be zero on windy nights in Germany).  Total cost for power and battery replacement would be 5.5 cents per mile; a vehicle would need fuel economy much better than 55 MPG to get total costs (not just fuel costs) that low at $3.00/gallon.

On top of this, the battery vehicle would have safety advantages from the extra weight, and low-mounted batteries would give it superior stability.  It would be a better car.

On to renewable energy.

"Wind generated electricity is a) low quality (because it's intermittent) and b) subs for a form of energy where there are loads of alternatives (eg nuclear, coal)."

I'm willing to let the market sort this one out, but declining supplies of natural gas (especially in California, but many other places as well) require replacement by some other energy supply.  The problem is, we need it now.  If planning started for a nuclear plant today, it would probably not start feeding the grid before 2015; wind farms could come on-line in perhaps 3 years.  I'm bullish on coal because I expect it to be "the last man standing" in the fossil lineup, but I would rather have wind because of coal's emissions.

" The use of ethanol doesn't preclude other options.

You can combine it with plug-in hybrids say.
"

Yes, you can.  The question is, what should government policy be promoting?  The hypothetical GO-HEV above costs something like 5.5 cents per all-electric mile, and its "fuel" is 97% petroleum-free if drawn from the US generation mix.  If the vehicle gets 30 miles per gallon of ethanol (~40 MPG of gasoline on an energy-equivalent basis), you need ethanol to sell for $1.65/gallon or less to be competitive.

If the government wants to encourage people to cut petroleum use, it should be subsidizing GO-HEV's much more heavily than ethanol.  Instead, it does the reverse.  Lynne at The Knowledge Problem says the ethanol provisions make the energy look more like a farm bill, and I agree.
 
To answer Nick's question:

Petrol currently sells for over 90 p/litre in the UK, or around $6 per gallon. Yet, there are few hybrid sales and no plug-in hybrid sales.
http://www.thisiswiltshire.co.uk/wiltshire/cars/news/CARS_NEWS9.html
http://www.carpages.co.uk/toyota/toyota-prius-07-04-05.asp?switched=on&echo=1022977075

For that matter, the G-Whiz all electric car has managed a grand sales volume of 200 per year, and that is even though it gets tons of perks in London (eg free parking, which can be worth over £10,000 per year, no congestion charge, which runs at £5 per day at the moment and is due to be raised to £8 per day, and the Prius by the way is also exempted from the congestion charge).

If you believe GO-HEV's (better known as plug-in hybrids) are competitive at $3 per gallon, they should sell like hot cakes in Europe, where petrol is twice as expensive as that.

As I've mentioned above, the hybrid sales are dominated by the US market.

More specifically, you'll find they are dominated by sales of the Prius in the US market.

The reason for that I suspect is that the Prius is being subsidised by Toyota as a public relations ploy.

In the UK it sells for £17500, which at current exchange rates is over $31000, or $10000 over the US price.

Yet, you can buy the Perodua Kelissa (a Nissan Micra clone) here for less than £5000. That car has roughly the same fuel economy, but the Prius is three and a half times as expensive.

You also need to consider that in Europe 30 or 33 mpg is very low for a non-hybrid car. The average new car gets 42 mpg over here.

Many new cars are just under 6 l/100 km, only about 1.5 l/100 km more than the Prius. 15000 km of driving per year and the saving is a bit over £200 per year, when you could get an equivalent car for around £7000 less. No wonder they aren't selling like hot cakes here.

You can argue that government policy in Europe is exceedingly favourable, yet it's not enough.

As for the US, the Energy bill has large subsidies for hybrids (several thousand Dollars per vehicle), and you shouldn't forget that even in the US gasoline is taxed to the tune of 40-50 cents per gallon, while gasoline displaced through better vehicle efficiency is not taxed, giving an effective subsidy to improved vehicle efficiency.


I don't know what your gripe here is really. I mean what would you do policy wise to make hybrids more attractive still in the US?

Higher gasoline taxes are, politically, a non-starter in the current environment with gasoline wholesale prices at $75 per barrel. So, one could hand out even more than the several thousand Dollar in the energy bill, I suppose.

You are a bit too dismissive of the farming policy element in ethanol politics. It's a political reality that farmers do get a lot of support across the industrialised nations.

It seems a lot better to subsidise the production of a liquid fuel than to pay farmers for set-aside land (ie for not growing anything).

And with prices where they are now, with ethanol production costs around $50 per barrel and gasoline in the $70 range, the incentives in place don't really have much of a cost.
 
Heiko, the first article you posted got me the wrong article - perhaps you meant the Honda article next to it? The other article seems to indicate that Prius's in the UK are growing very fast, and are limited not by demand but by supply, as they are in the US (*Toyota expects to sell over 3,500 Prius in the UK this year, more than doubling the 1,588 units sold in 2004.*).

You have to compare "apples to apples": that is, compare the Prius to a similar size and quality car.

I think perhaps that the efficiency and usefulness of hybrids (and wind, for that matter)is a not-helpful distraction from your central argument over whether ethanol is a useful substitute for gasoline.
 
No, not really. I did mean to link both articles. 3500 Priuses is not exactly Earth shattering.

http://www.greencarcongress.com/

In July, Toyota sold nearly 10000 Priuses in the US, that's 3500 in a bit over a week.

The UK car market this year will likely amount to some 2.3 million units.

The main fact I wanted to draw attention to here is that the Prius is selling a lot better in the US, in spite of $6 a gallon gasoline over here.

Surely, the fact that UK consumers have to pay over $31000 for the Prius, or about $10000 more than in the US, has got something to do with it.

What I suspect, as I said, is that the Prius is priced as a loss leader in the US, which presumably is also a major reason for the waiting times.

I bet, if the Prius was priced at $31000 in the US you wouldn't have long waiting times.

What got me to post here in the first place was that the owner of this blog suggested that ethanol was a hopeless case worthy of no assistance, while wind and plug-in hybrids were in another category altogether.

I rather think that ethanol is close to competitiveness and for a variety of reasons deserves a tiny bit of help, while I've got a much more negative view of wind, and where plug-in hybrids are concerned, or even hybrids I take a much, much dimmer view than he does,

and the fact that hybrids are doing so poorly in Europe in spite of gasoline prices at $6 per gallon (ie an effective subsidy/incentive of close to $200 per barrel) features rather prominently in that assessment.

As does the fact that ethanol production costs are currently around $50 per barrel, while gasoline (latest quote from Bloomberg) currently sells for $1.805 wholesale, which translates to over $75 per barrel.
 
What I suspect, as I said, is that the Prius is priced as a loss leader in the US, which presumably is also a major reason for the waiting times.

Interesting. So this is effectively a bait and switch. My take is that the auto industry collectively dislikes energy efficient cars of all kinds because by their nature, these vehicles can't have a lot of options (eg, power locks/windows, leather seats, spoilers, fancy hubcaps, etc). Another way to look at it, is that the automobile industry sells options and they do it by dangling an automobile.

I rather think that ethanol is close to competitiveness and for a variety of reasons deserves a tiny bit of help, while I've got a much more negative view of wind, and where plug-in hybrids are concerned, or even hybrids I take a much, much dimmer view than he does,

Remember we have significant subsidies for ethanol production and that we're probably recycling existing low value farm waste. If we can do that with ethanol, then great. But I think the economics change when you try to grow crops solely for biofuels. But you've heard this already.
 
I've read that Toyota was making a per-unit profit on the Prius starting a year after its US introduction.
 
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